by Marina Brafa
It’s winter time again: the scent of cinnamon wafting through the air, the decorating of gingerbread houses and Christmas movies hitting theaters in a jingle-bell-like staccato. Ready for some nauseating kitschy Christmas staples? Each Sunday we will post a review with that special FemFilmFans twist for your unholy delight.
Today's featured film is Love, Actually.
Love, Actually (2003)
On a gray and lonely Sunday at the end of the November, I suddenly feel a deep desire that is tucked away in my brain for most of the year. I go on Youtube and type “All I Want for Christmas + Love Actually” and listen to the song at least three times in a row. The video is the perfect Christmas overkill: a poisonous combination of Mariah Carey’s evergreen hit belted out by 10-year-old Joanna (played by Olivia Olsen) during the Christmas concert scene from director Richard Curtis’s Christmas classic. Since its release in 2003, Love, Actually has quickly made its way into our hearts and into the Christmas movie canon. This year the movie celebrates its 15th anniversary. We take this opportunity to re-watch it with more critical eyes.
The film was written and directed by Richard Curtis (the man behind British romcoms such as Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’s Diary) and stars many famous actresses and actors like Keira Knightly, Emma Thompson, the late Alan Rickman and Liam Neeson. The movie title bluntly states what the film is all about: love - the universal value that everyone can agree on, right? Wrong. Especially not after watching Love, Actually. Curtis transforms love into a heteronormative, misogynist ideology. Ten (!) intersected plotlines deal with specific romantic issues, presenting his ideas of love. The outcome is a love potpourri that draws on questionable gender roles. Let’s take a closer look at the movie’s representation of women.
Applies to all: Curtis seems like he has never heard of the Bechdel test before. Most of the time women talk about men and/or romantic encounters and related problems. In the end, we are always presented with any of the three options for what I would call a male-positive ending:  the man gets the woman he loves or  he has learned a “life lesson” (on the back of a woman) that makes him stronger or  a woman is suffering because of a man.
Juliet, Peter and Mark or The Classic Love Triangle: Man loves his best friend’s wife, or rather is creepily obsessed with her (during their wedding, he only films her so he can re-watch this footage at home alone). Mark finally confesses his love to Juliet on Christmas Eve, to which she responds with giggles and even bestows him with a kiss (since he has been soooo brave). She then returns to her husband leaving Mark with his unfulfilled desire that he can easily continue to project on her.
Jamie and Aurélia or Love Transcends Borders: A sensitive author, Jamie, is left by his bitchy partner because he is too nice (note: men have to be “strong” to be desirable). He withdraws to a French cottage. Luckily, his good-looking Portuguese household help, Aurélia, understands his delicate soul without even being able to talk to him since she cannot speak English. But who cares? Returning to Britain for Christmas Eve, Jamie understands that he loves Aurélia (obviously). He flies to Portugal and publicly proposes to her in broken Portuguese (cute, right?). She accepts, because any other answer would have been mean and injurious to his ego.
Harry, Karen and Mia or Save The Nuclear Family: Man is “threatened” at work by a femme fatale - his sexy young employee. Eventually, he gives in because, well, she’s sexy and his wife at home will understand if she finds out. Of course she does find out and of course she takes him back because family is so important. At least she is a bit mad at him.
David and Natalie or The Power of Love: We see a variation of the motive “workplace-relationship”. In contrast to the above mentioned Harry, Karen, Mia-story this time the relationship is a totally innocent one though. Natalie falls in love with a man who is her superior. But just being hierarchically higher is not enough: David is prime minister(!) of the UK and Natalie is his intern (any associations to real politicians and interns are naturally unintended…). Government officials are blamed to be cold and unromantic - not so David. He is depicted as heartwarmingly insecure when speaking to Natalie. Oh, so maybe that’s the reason he constantly body-shames her (as do others), turning the focus away from his insecurity onto Natalie’s “chubby body shape”. Merry Christmas…
Daniel, Sam, Joanna and Carol or Only Dead Women Are Good Women: A boy has lost his mother. Yet he cries because he is unhappily in love with a girl from his school. How can he make her notice him? Talking to her is no option for the shy guy. His grieving father tries to help him through this manhood-shaping life lesson. And because the father is so nice, his Christmas gift is a hot blonde model (Claudia Fischer in one of her rare roles).
Sarah, Karl and Michael or The Ugly Duckling: A shy woman pines away for a coworker’s love. Finally, the office Christmas party provides an opportunity to mingle. The man, who has not expressed a meaningful sentence to this point, readily goes home with her. His name is Karl and even his nerdy glasses cannot make him bad-looking. You might think: Sure, the lead up might have been strange but finally she is getting her fair share of the Christmas pudding! Nope. Another man, her mentally disturbed brother, calls her. Doing the right(?) thing,she leaves and spends Christmas with him. Family, as seen above, is so important. And she continues pining away for Karl. That’s what women are best at anyway.
John and Judy or There’s No Sex Without Love: What do we learn while watching two porn actors falling at love on set? That the work place is love spot no. 1! An incredible five out of ten plots are centered on or around work and power relations in the office! Oh, and even commodified sex needs love, at least on Christmas.
Colin, Tony and the American girls or Ok, Maybe There’s Sex Without Love As Long As I am a Horny Brit. That’s the whole plotline, actually.
Bill and Joe or Maybe Gay: Finally, a quirky relation between two men. But don’t get too excited. They are just friends, although attentive viewers might sense a homosexual subtext. If you dislike the idea you are welcome to stick with friendship. It never becomes explicit, so it is open to interpretation and everyone is happy. Sure enough, we see no female homosexuality.
It’s hard to give up habits. I used to like Love, Actually. Maybe I will continue to do so. Meanwhile I am looking for more complex movies. If you have any suggestions comment below or contact us on IG!
If you are interested in a more comprehensive (feminist) review of Love, Actually you should check out this article on The Independent.