How “Love Actually” Became a Cult Christmas Movie

Some may recite, in order or out of order, the written declaration of love of the character played by Andrew Lincoln, confessing his love to Keira Knightley, newly married to the best friend (Chiwetel Ejiofor) of this grieving man. Others repeat the overwhelming sequence in which Emma Thompson cries all the tears in her body to an air by Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now) following the discovery of the infidelities of her spouse (the late Alan Rickman) for a gift she believed was intended for him. And who would dare say no to Colin Firth crossing half of Europe to ask a young Portuguese woman in marriage in a scene worthy of Roméo and Julietincluding balcony?

If none of this is familiar to you, you are one of the few – or the privileged! – not to have seen yet Love Actually (2003), by Richard Curtis, which has become a must-see Christmas movie. It was then for this British screenwriter a shattering debut behind the camera, he who was until then known for the television phenomenon M. Bean, and later associated with romantic comedies that will launch the careers of a new generation of stars (Four Weddings and A Funeral, by Mike Newell) or spark a real estate boom in a once-not-so-hip part of London (Notting Hillby Roger Michell).

Curtis is also trying to take up the challenge of choral film, a perilous genre where even the greatest, like Robert Altman, have sometimes missed a few stitches in their knitting. Stopping at nothing, he closely follows eight couples, more or less legitimate, more or less official, caught up in the pre-Christmas preparations and the conquest, or the reconquest, of the loved one. Sometimes ostentatiously, or so discreetly that it becomes unhealthy, as for Laura Linney, under the spell of an office colleague (Rodrigo Santoro) seeming to come out of the Vogue Men. Family obligations will screw up this unfinished romance, while others will be more triumphant, as for Liam Neeson dreaming of Claudia Schiffer (guess the rest?) While his stepson is seduced by an American from his school on the verge of return to his country.

Like a Christmas tree surrounded by gifts that would hide the tree, Love Actually crumbles under the abundance of sentimental intrigues, sometimes forcing the links between the characters, the time of hasty scenes where one guesses that some are friends, others of the same siblings (Hugh Grant as Prime Minister and unmarried a little bitter hardly has time to console his sister, here Emma Thompson). One (narrative) problem among others in this film with great ambitions, including those of renewing the codes of romantic comedy. But is this really the case?

Conservative values

Richard Curtis mostly flouts the laws, according to Stéfany Boisvert, professor at the UQAM Media School. “Many lovers of romantic comedies have been disappointed with the centrality of the men in Love Actually. Women occupy subordinate positions, secondary roles, in a genre that gives them much more space. Released two years after the events of September 11, 2001, the film only mentions it – in the opening sequence shot on hidden camera at Heathrow Airport – but this sidelining is no accident , according to Stéfany Boisvert.

“September 11 brought more conservative values ​​back to the fore, and the film was seen by many as a celebration of neoliberalism: these Londoners all live in expensive places, in an extremely white Britain, and where disadvantaged classes are undoubtedly absent. “

These are criticisms which in no way alter the pleasure of the admirers, and especially the admirers, of Love Actually, a fantasy where a powerful politician can unite with an employee of 10 Downing Street, a successful writer with his housekeeper, or a grieving widower with a woman looking like a supermodel. Even a young Englishman with an ordinary physique (Kris Marshall) can come to the United States to conquer American beauties (including a young January Jones, a few years before the successful series Mad Men) – hands down the most ridiculous segment of the movie. Ultimately, the one involving the linings of a porn movie (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) is a burlesque a little better controlled.

Never mind: the pleasure was immense when it came out, nothing has been able to alter it since. This is true for Catherine Moreau, co-host of the podcast Reality consequence with Thomas Leblanc, and for whom Love Actually is tattooed on the heart. “When I was 17 in 2003, the film represented for me a catalog of possibilities, lives different from those I imagined at the time,” underlines the student in feminist studies at UQAM. The scenes at the airport seemed to him then “charged with emotions”, because of September 11, and the film allowed him to discover Joni Mitchell thanks to the dismay of the character of Emma Thompson.

Catherine Moreau has heard the many criticisms of the film, but remains unwavering. “Do you know a lot of people who criticize It’s a Wonderful Life [de Frank Capra, 1946] ? Everyone knows when it was shot, same for Love Actually. And why, according to her, is the film still so polarizing? Perhaps we should look for the answer on the side … of reality TV! “You know the principle: the more something is loved, the more we love to hate it. Yes Occupation double wasn’t that popular, people wouldn’t talk about it. And since many people love to argue… ”

Feed the controversy

And to quibble over Love Actually, it quibbles cheerfully, even in the pages of the very serious magazineThe Atlantic. This is hardly surprising according to Stéfany Boisvert, because “in the digital age, polarization is easy to build”, especially in front of a romantic comedy that looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Therein lies one of the film’s problems, according to Paule Beaudoin, digital educational advisor at the Cégep de Lévis, who saw the film again without her teenage eyes. “The characters have different temperaments, different jobs, but everything converges towards the same idea, the search for love, and without any added value. Basically, why tell a thousand stories when you can say the same thing in one? “She also sees” a great film to watch as a couple “, but advises against it for singles. Just about everyone finds a soul mate, but no one wants to have a Christmas as sad as the one poor Laura Linney is going through …

This standardization hides all the same some dissonances, including this accumulation of grossophobic jokes on the physique of the assistant to the Prime Minister, the radiant Martine McCutcheon. One fat shaming which would not pass the ramp today, but that Catherine Moreau tends to put into perspective. “That doesn’t stop Hugh Grant’s character from loving her, and defending her. I have more problems with Andrew Lincoln’s boxes: he could have “managed” himself instead of putting Keira Knightley’s character in such an awkward position. “

Some of the people contacted by The Duty knew that several scenes had not survived the editing stage, but were unaware of the removal of a wonderful sequence around two mature women (Frances de la Tour and Anne Reid), in love, but soon separated by death. “It is very revealing, deplores Éric Leblanc, author and multidisciplinary artist who likes to take a caustic look at popular culture. We only see the heteronormative framework, and the primary value of the film is marriage: when a man declares his love for a woman, she has no choice but to agree, and to love him. . And if Love Actually expresses something about the 2000s, it’s in this awkward way of opening up timidly to diversity. “

In the opinion of all, this love story would have given to Love Actually a certain aura of daring. Impossible posture according to Eric Leblanc, “because the film fully assumes its clichés, and especially its openly commercial character”. For Stéfany Boisvert, this revealing withdrawal is part of a desire to revalorize traditional and heroic models of masculinity, tinged with the events of September 11. “The representation of men here is very positive, romances are seen from their point of view: they often have everything they want, and almost always women younger than them …”

Does all of this make it a bad Christmas movie? Yes Die Hard can be on the list, why not Love Actually ? And as for the Bye Bye, many enjoy seeing it year after year as much as fueling controversy.

Really love

By Richard Curtis. Great Britain, 2003, 135 minutes. Available on Illico, Crave, iTunes Store, Google Play, YouTube and Netflix.

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