Miranda Levy is a major in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Elon University where she pens a sex column for its student-run lifestyle magazine, The Edge.
It happens every year around the holidays: screenings (and awesome parodies) of the 2003 Christmas movie Love Actually, followed by impassioned rants by both the lovers and the haters. So this year — a shitty year to end all years — I’m throwing my hat into the dark side of the ring.
For a movie supposedly about love, there’s a lot of hate in the mix. Namely the hatred of women. Misogyny, sexism, bullshit…whatever you want to call it, it’s the glue that holds this steaming, treacly pile of poo together. In the world of Love Actually, the men have all the luck, the women get shafted; young women seem to be the exclusive servants to older men; communication between the sexes is non-existent; and while men drive the action, things happen to women. Yes, it’s the alt-right’s misogynistic wet dream! What more proof do you need that this movie should be lining the stables of Santa’s reindeer?
Well, with about 84 too many characters in this film, there’s a lot more specific proof. Let’s break it down, role by role:
The Abuser of Power — David , the new Prime Minister of England (played by Hugh Grant), falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a junior member of his household staff, apparently based on nothing more than the fact that she brings him tea and chocolate biscuits with an endearing lower-class accent and a sparkling smile. Where is she from? Is she even single? Who cares! The only thing he knows is that he’s secretly in love with her — that is until the President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton) hits on Natalie (another abuser of power!), at which point the P.M. punishes her by relocating her to another position where he won’t be distracted by her temptress ways. Good thing he finds her Xmas card to him confessing her total devotion, instantly falls back in love, chases her down at an elementary school holiday recital, and gets a boner for her in front of the entire audience (ok, the boner isn’t literal, but still, nothing inspires a hot and heavy make-out session like a school nativity play).
The “Fat” Girl — This Natalie, a perfectly average-sized woman, is referred to as “fat” throughout the movie as, what, some type of cutesy joke? Apparently her failing to meet narrow cinematic body-size standards necessitates the addition of a running plot-line around the topic. Perhaps we’re supposed to view the Prime Minister’s ability to fall in love with a woman without an eating disorder as some kind endearing act of selflessness. Unfortunately, ample thighs do not magically add character development.
The Self-Sacrificing Woman — If anyone in this movie truly deserves love, it’s Laura Linney’s character, Sarah. She’s a hardworking badass at a design company who has a real connection with her gorgeous coworker, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). But does she get to have her fantasy fulfilled? Nope! She abandons the promise of sex with her long-time crush in order to care for her mentally ill brother, again and again. You know who gets their fantasy fulfilled? A British bro whose indiscriminate sexual advances are not reciprocated until he moves to the States where not one, not two, but three intellectually challenged models fall for his accent and agree to a fourway. Yeah, that seems fair and just for what’s supposed to be a feel-good Xmas movie.
The Vessel of Unrealistic Male Fantasy — This, of course, is the role of Kiera Knightly. Mark (The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln) commits the ultimate betrayal of friendship by convincing himself he’s in love with his best friend’s wife, Juliet (Knightly), even though they have so little genuine interaction with each other that she is convinced Mark kind of hates her. In other words, their “romance” is so one-side that, by definition, it’s not love, actually. Instead of dealing with the personal baggage that leads him to fall for the taken ones, Mark puts Juliet in the most awkward and uncomfortable situation ever: after she discovers that Mark, acting as her and her hubby’s wedding videographer, has creepily zoomed in on her and only her for the duration of the nuptials (um, your fired!), he secretly confesses his true feelings to her, with those infernal cue-cards and that poor-man’s “Say Anything” boombox, while his best friend is only a few feet away! Dude, we like you better hacking away at zombies with a blunt pick-axe.
The Woman with No Voice — Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), a young and beautiful Portuguese housekeeper who can’t speak a lick of English, is literally delivered to Colin Firth’s doorstep, as if to say, “Hey, you just got cheated on, so here’s your replacement hot girl!” Jamie (Firth), who can’t speak a lick of Portuguese, is spared the annoyance of trying to engage in small talk, let alone meaningful conversation, with this woman who’s yet another underling! Which begs the question: Why does he need a housekeeper every day to clean and cook? He’s single now and does nothing but write books and wear fisherman sweaters. How hard could it be for a grown man to look after himself? His sexual tension ultimately transforms into true wuv when she must — yes, she must — take her top off to save the pages of his latest manuscript which have ended up in a lake. Before either of them have had a real conversation, with or without the aid of a translator, he proposes and she blindly accepts. Because love means never having to say…anything at all.
The Cheating Husband — Ready for some vintage cliches? Harry (Alan Rickman), the managing director of the aforementioned design company, just can’t resist the cartoonish sexual advances made by his new assistant, Mia (Heike Makatsch). Never mind that he’s got a loving wife at home who’s swallowed all her dreams in order to raise their kids. And what does he do when he’s found out? His best Droopy Dog impression, saying “I’m a fool” and not much else. Come on, man! Get on your knees and beg for forgiveness! That’s your wife, goddammit, make some effort!
The Homewrecker — And the cliches keep coming! Mia’s backstory is basically“obligatory sex object/manipulating, money-loving man-stealer.” That’s it. When developing her character, the writers must have done nothing more than look up “Sexy Secretary” on the Spirit Halloween Costume site.
The Doormat Wife — Perhaps the most heartbreaking character is Karen, puzzlingly played by Emma Thompson (seriously, why did she accept the offer of this shit role?). A beautiful woman, an amazing wife, a great mom, who — much like Sarah — is denied her happy ending. She sticks by her man and must suffer the added indignity of picking up the pieces of their marriage (more cleaning by women!), since her brick wall of a husband certainly won’t do it. The moral of the story? Selfless women are undeserving of good love and good sex.
Thanks Love Actually . . . for nothing.