Do You Actually Hate “Love, Actually”?
It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s time for us to roll around in our collective hate or love for “Love, Actually.” The movie was released 12 years ago, but Jesus was born 2015 years ago and we still talk about him, so why not endlessly rehash Richard Curtis’s quilt of 1,000 rom-coms? Taking a massive shit on or vehemently defending “Love, Actually” has become as special a tradition as leaving cookies for Santa. It feels part of the very fabric of the holiday season. But when did our ritualistic “Love, Actually” conflict begin? And do we even actually love or hate “Love, Actually”?
The persistent love is a bit more obvious. If you’re a full hater, let’s take a twee trip back in time. Imagine yourself flying over movie theaters in your pajamas accompanied by a ghost. It’s 2003, it’s lightly snowing and also you’re wearing Uggs, because that’s what people did in 2003. You cruise over your house, your town and then the local movie theater. People are smiling and laughing in line. You feel your own face helplessly pulsing into a grin, and then you see it on the marquee: they’re waiting for “Love, Actually.”
Could it be this treacherous black mark on the history of cinema might have once brought folks so much glee? “It’s hard to quantify joy,” your ghost chaperone says, “But I can tell you that ‘Love, Actually’ grossed $246,942,017 worldwide.” “No,” you think. “It can’t be true!” (You’re still in the part of the Scrooge arc where you are being very stubborn and refusing to see reason). You grasp desperately for some possible explanation. “What about the reviews?” you demand of the kind ghost, who, by the way, is played by Carol Kane. “They were mixed but mostly positive,” she tells you.
It’s true. Sorry, that was just a dream. Now you’re back at your computer in real life, checking to confirm that “Love, Actually” received a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes. At the time, it was holistically considered a sexist, syrupy and unrealistic mess that, somehow, was still pretty damn charming. As Scott Tobias wrote for the A.V. Club, “‘Love Actually’ shamelessly compresses eight or nine sure-fire hits into one booming ode to amour.” Or, in the words of J.R. Jones for the Chicago reader: “This is cloying, deceitful, and more or less irresistible.”
That’s not an exaggeration. Carol Kane wasn’t lying when she said it made almost $250 million. Over the years, “Love, Actually” snowballed into a verifiable Christmas classic if not the ultimate rom-com. And, for the most part, it plodded along in our hearts as a harmless, lowbrow love affair until the 10-year anniversary.
Looking back now, it only make sense. Like anything that gets too big and beloved, it was doomed to be burst by the pin prick of the Internet. Sure, there were naysayers before. In 2011, Bobby Finger wrote “Hate Actually” for the Hairpin dissecting the various subplots, and, 10 days later, Mary Elizabeth Williams called it “the worst Christmas movie ever” for Salon. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the content mill began revving to a pulse around the film. Christopher Orr wrote “‘Love Actually’ Is The Least Romantic Film Of All Time” for The Atlantic, and the month that followed was like a dam bursting along with Think Progress’s “‘Love Actually’ Isn’t A Romantic Comedy Or A Christmas Movie, It’s A Tragedy” and Jezebel’s “I Re-watched ‘Love Actually’ And Am Here To Ruin It For All Of You,” in addition to “My Big Fat Problem With Love Actually,” “‘Love, Actually’ Sucks, Actually” and “Five Reasons ‘Love, Actually Is The Worst Film Ever Made.” Meanwhile, the backlash to the backlash was beginning, in the form of responses like Mother Jones’s “Why ‘Love Actually’ Matters” and The Atlantic’s own clapback “I Will Not Be Ashamed Of Loving ‘Love, Actually’,” followed by commentary on said backlash to the backlash, such as NPR’s “The Case For — And Against — ‘Love Actually’” and “Dear Internet, It’s Christmas. Please Stop Fighting About ‘Love, Actually’.”
In 2013, there was the logical anniversary peg, but things didn’t quite slow down in 2014, and have managed to be resuscitated yet again this year. In November alone, Buzzfeed published “22 Reasons ‘Love, Actually’ Is Not A Good Movie’” as well as “For Everyone Who’s Actually Still In Love With ‘Love Actually’” and “PSA: That Famous ‘Love, Actually’ Scene Is Actually The Fucking Worst.” There’s also Cosmopolitan’s “Reasons Juliet From ‘Love, Actually’ Is The Absolute WORST,” Cosmopolitan’s (somehow different?) “14 Reasons Keira Knightley’s Character In ‘Love, Actually’ Is The Goddamn Worst’” and Man Repeller’s “‘Love, Actually’ Is Full Of Terrible Life Lessons.”
Since the film had its share of negative responses even upon release, it’s understandable that we’re seeing a resurgence of new, fresh takedowns. Yet, the continued yearly ritual is an exhausting regurgitation, mindlessly repeated in the way of so many things that fall victim to the Internet’s placebo effect. Ask yourself if you are really crying over Adele, or gagging over Coldplay playing the Superbowl, or Nickelback in general. It’s fine if you are, but, you know, think for yourself.
The polarity of “Love, Actually” has allowed the hatred to persevere. That it’s propagated each December by a range of media outlets only fortifies the extended arguing to continue fueling its own seasonal feedback loop. While most iterations of pop culture ire require some development to resurge, “Love, Actually” manages to reappear each year as a fact of the holidays, carried back to our consciousness like Jonathan Winters floating in on a snowflake in the beginning of “Frosty Returns.” Given the call-and-answer nature of discussion and continued existence of Christmas, it would seem debate over the film is set up for endless volleying back and forth — an eternal tennis match with an enduring score of love, actually.
NOTE: Hate for “Love, Actually” is not to be confused with the 2011 Hong Kong drama “Love Actually… Sucks!”
Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) is uncomfortable talking about herself in the third person but has heard that it can be effective for things like this. She is a writer, journalist, and previous winner of a middle-school poetry contest. Her specialty is pop culture commentary, analysis, and reporting, but she would also make for an outstanding manager of a small-town Starbucks.