The Pajiba Staff Discusses 'Love, Actually': The Most Divisive Holiday Film of All Time
Of all the holiday traditions in the world, my very favorite isn’t baking cookies, listening to festive tunes or driving around admiring the beautiful lights. It’s the annual Airing of Pajiban Grievances Re: Love, Actually, wherein we as a staff try to decide, once and for all, do we like this fucking movie? Because we don’t know. We never know. Sometimes, I think we just say things.
So, this year, I decided to stage an experiment. The entire staff, as a group, would discuss the film, segment by segment, and then take a stand. Once and for all.
So here we go.
Billy Mack and Joe:
Seth Freilich: Best love story in the movie and the glue that holds the whole thing together.
Kristy Puchko: Haters of Love Actually must respect that it introduced America to Bill Nighy, and got him a slew of noteworthy roles in its wake.
Emily Chambers: One of the three acceptable love stories presented.
Juliet, Peter & Mark:
Sarah Carlson: Is the internet a safe place to admit this breaks my heart every time?
Kristy Puchko: Sarah, do you root for Mark?
Sarah Carlson: Well I root for him to not be heartbroken. I don’t root for breaking up Juliet and Peter. I just know unrequited love sucks. So it’s good he’s not after breaking them up, but I for one can debate whether his cue card stunt is actually helpful.
Kristy Puchko: I go back and forth on this one. Like he can’t HELP that he’s fallen for his friend’s fiancee. And he doesn’t attempt to do anything about it, in fact he runs from it by trying to avoid her as much as possible. But when she basically catches him because of the tape, what’s he going to do? Act like nothing happened? No. You go for a dramatic walk, and then you admit “I’m in love with you. But you owe me nothing. I’ll get over it. Merry Christmas.” And he does it in a way that doesn’t involve Peter, because he isn’t making a play for Juliet. He says, “It’s enough.” And it’s like he’s free. Sure, he’s still in love with her. But it’s not a secret that need plague him. And she doesn’t seem interested in Mark anyway, so there’s no threat to Peter, really. And besides: Peter is played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. You pick him over Andrew Lincoln everytime. That’s just science.
Emily Chambers: Mark, while totally respectable in all aspects of his feelings for Juliet, is not in love. He has a crush. Unobtainable crushes suck, but they are not the same as being in love. And in what world would Peter have not come to the door? You’re new wife says that carolers have come to your door for your first Christmas as a married couple and you just opt to chill on the couch? No way.
Courtney Enlow: I’m actually weirdly fine with this whole portion of the movie. I mean, she’s not interested, he gets to tell her how he feels and it becomes a secret between them and he’s free to move on. I don’t think he would have done it had he not been outed by the tape (his videography skills may be the most bothersome part of this whole thing—I get he wasn’t hired or commissioned but Jesus, man, literally take a photo, it’ll last longer).
David and Natalie:
Courtney Enlow: I just want to say that last year when I wrote that post asking why everyone thought Natalie was such a fattie several commenters posited that it was a reference to Monica Lewinsky, which seemed like a leap of Baryshnikovian heights. Between this and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, I feel that the British film industry may actually have worse body issues than Hollywood.
Genevieve Burgess: I thought it was that Martine McCutcheon was getting hounded mercilessly about weight fluctuations by the British tabloids so they decided to joke about it? I don’t know. There’s so many weird Love Actually theories out there I can’t keep them straight. And British in-jokes are always a “two countries divided by a common language” issue for me.
Also, as mentioned in a different thread, David having Natalie moved out of his direct staff was kind of played as a dick move in the film but was actually the TOTALLY CORRECT AND LAUDABLE THING TO DO as a boss overseeing someone you have developed romantic feelings for. Whether or not you are planning to act on those feelings.
Sarah Carlson: This is probably the part of the film that plays the worst with me — it’s always off-putting. I remember this coupled with “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and its fat jokes and depiction of Americans made me question Brits’ sense of humor. Because if Bridget and Natalie are fat, I’m my own ZIP code. And the constant fat jokes made about Aurelia’s sister? Blerg. ALSO: I remember the trailers for this movie when Rick is holding up the signs for Knightley, I believe his last card was supposed to say “Fatso.” Wut.
Kristy Puchko: I’m with Hugh on this.
Emily Chambers: Natalie is super hot. David behaves in totally appropriate ways in which I can’t imagine Hugh Grant ever would. He just needed to vag up and ask Natalie out on a date after he had her moved out from his immediate supervision.
Jamie and Aurelia:
Courtney Enlow: I know everyone has issues with this storyline and I agree with them, but Firth. 10/10, would Firth again.
Kristy Puchko: They fell in love without language! Whose heart is so encrusted with rot they can’t rejoice in that?
Emily Chambers: They are not in love. You cannot be in love without having a significant conversation with someone. And maybe they could just date for a bit? She could come back to London or he could move to Portugal or they could do the long distance thing for a bit? Maybe start with some emails? Just because marriage is the usual culmination of a loving relationship does not mean it’s a guarantee of a loving relationship. They’ll be broken up by January.
Sarah Carlson: Yes you can be! I disagree with your premise, Chambers! Mainly because you’re defining love as a concrete thing, when love is more nebulous than that.
Emily Chambers: How though? If you’ve never had a conversation with someone, how do you know that you love them? What if they think gay people are going to burn in hell? Or that women are supposed to be submissive to men? Or what if they liked Paul Blart? Feeling connected to someone or wanting to bone someone without a conversation seem completely reasonable to me. But how can you just logistically say, “I know almost nothing about this person’s thoughts or feelings, but I know that I love them”?
And also, none of this retroactive “it was love at first sight” nonsense. People aren’t actually in love from the first moment they meet. They’re interested in someone right away, and then the relationship works out.
Sarah Carlson: Wait, so you can’t love someone you disagree with? Whaaaaa? My point is that you can say “I know that I love them,” and mean it, and who am I to say that that’s not valid?
Emily Chambers: I was just listing deal breakers for me. I wouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who believed any of the things I mentioned. I think everyone has their own deal breakers, and there’s no way of know if the other person holds those beliefs until you have a conversation about it. I can say “I love that person” and you wouldn’t be able to convince me that that’s not valid. But I couldn’t convince you that it is. If instead of a relationship where I’d never had a conversation with my beloved I instead were being beaten regularly, you wouldn’t be expected to believe me if I said it was love, right?
Sarah Carlson: Well I would believe you in the sense that you might mean it, having a warped view of what love is/what you deserve.
But again, I think we’re getting off-track in regard to the movie. I’m not defending the Jamie storyline. I think it would work if it ended with him just coming to see her and not propose. But the ridiculousness of the situation felt normal to me in the scheme of the movie.
Emily Chambers: And that’s where my cold, dead heart comes into play. The ridiculousness of the scene killed any emotional investment I had in their relationship.
Courtney Enlow: Mine was killed by Aurelia’s poor tragic sister. WHY IS EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE SUCH FAT-SHAMING TRASH GARBAGE?
Harry, Karen and Mia (she of inappropriate office legspreading):
Courtney Enlow: Emma Thompson deserved better than EVERYTHING. Everything. Rickman was THE WORST. Inapprope Mia was only the tip of his iceberg of nast. That whole conversation he had with Laura Linney about Karl (there’s no way his name is Karl) was an HR NIGHTMARE. And a CD? A CD?! Put that shit in the microwave and watch the sparkles, Emma.
Kristy Puchko: But! Thompson SLAYED in that long shot of her next to the bed listening to “Both Sides Now.” Every time she crushes me to bits with that scene. It makes this whole horrendous trope of old man/hot young secretary worthwhile for the richness of my good cry in that moment. Also, Mia clearly has good taste in men, and shit taste in jewelry. Haters and Lovers of this movie alike can agree on that, right?
Courtney Enlow: Thompson absolutely destroyed that whole scene. I actually played that when I was a film major as an example of an excellent depiction of emotion without dialogue. The other film school kids DID NOT CARE FOR ME.
Genevieve Burgess: I also appreciated that for all Mia “pursued” Rickman, it showed him clearly aware of what was happening and actively making the choice to engage with her. He wasn’t fooled, he wasn’t tricked, he was a married man who made a choice to return the interest of HIS EMPLOYEE. Like, as much as it kind of sucked that the Prime Minister moved Natalie out of his direct staff, that was the correct and laudable thing to do. Rickman should have done exactly that. Even if he still intended to bone her like a dirtbag.
Steven Wilson: Ugh, Emma’s character is obviously the poster child for the sexual jealousy, emotionalism and spiteful turf wars that sometimes dog women.
Petr Knava: If only she was results-oriented! Silly woman, being born the silly gender!
Emily Chambers: Regarding the Rickman talk to Laura Linney about Karl, now that we have a real life Brit on the scene, Petr what the hell is happening in your country? Is this or that one episode of The Office where everyone had to kiss the birthday girl at all representative of British office environments or have I been very lied to?
Petr Knava: I’ve put off watching this movie so unless there’s some nuance or key information I’m missing in that specific scene, then no, we don’t do that.
Maybe it was a thing in the ’70s. But then again so was Jimmy Savile so…
Emily Chambers: /Googles “Jimmy Savile”/ JESUS FUCK.
Petr Knava: …yeahhh…Sorry you had to see that
Sarah and Karl:
Genevieve Burgess: Fucking terrible. What. a hot dude can’t keep his shirt off for half an hour while she has a phone call? A relationship can’t start with an honest and open conversation about family obligations, which Karl might also have? BULLSHIT.
Rebecca Pahle: That’s the reason I can’t with Love Actually. That was the ONLY plotline I was invested in, and it’s the one that didn’t get a goddamn proper ending.
Genevieve Burgess: There’s a version of this movie where after the events, Sarah goes to get coffee with Karl and explains that she’s her brother’s primary caretaker, that he’s in a facility, but that she still makes an effort to make him a priority and she needs a partner who understands that. At which point Karl sighs with relief and says that his mother has been struggling with dementia the last few years, and he visits her three times a week and hasn’t been able to find anyone who understands and encourages his caretaking. They embrace, and begin the beautiful yet complex process of building a relationship together that still respects their previous obligations.
Courtney Enlow: The shift from sexy to unbearably vulnerable and emotionally devastated is exponentially increased by literal physical nakedness.
Sam and Daniel:
Emily Chambers: Is this one too heartbreaking for everyone? Were it not for Liam Neeson, I’d be completely annoyed by this one. I mean, I’m not trying to crush a child’s dreams, but you’re 7 so maybe cool it with the love talk. I definitely wouldn’t encourage a child to break several laws in order to say goodbye to a girl with whom he has never before spoken.
Sarah Carlson: ^ COLD DEAD HEART
Emily Chambers: I KNOW. THIS IS WHAT I’M TRYING TO TELL EVERYONE.
TK: How is it that I’m the only one who feels genuine affection for this movie? ME. WHAT IS HAPPENING.
John and Judy the naked Martin Freeman people whose names no one knows but it’s John and Judy:
Kristy Puchko: It’s a funny plot, but one that goes over a lot of people’s heads. I know a lot of people that call this the “porn plot.” But John and Judy aren’t meant to be porn stars of any sort. It’s supposed to be that they are stand-ins for A-listers doing a “arty” erotic movie (think Eyes Wide Shut or 9 1/2 Weeks). But I don’t think that’s made very clear, and Richard Curtis takes the public’s awareness of that kind of filmmaking for granted. So, from jump this thread—though clever and sweet—is flubbed.
Emily Chambers: Martin Freeman is weirdly sexy.
Colin, Tony and the worst depiction of Americans this side of Birth of a Nation:
Kristy Puchko: This is the only part of this movie I can’t stand. I fastforward through that idiotic American bar sequence. But hey, Elisha Cuthbert gave us Happy Endings as penance for this bullshit sexist fantasy. Ivana Milicevic and January Jones’s debt is overdue.
Genevieve Burgess: This storyline is bullshit, but it’s also the lynchpin to my theory that Love Actually is the definitive Christmas movie because it is actually SEVERAL movies of varying tone and content smashed into one. You get ridiculous fratty sex romp with Colin, sentimental ridiculous “love conquers all” with Jamie and Aurelia, heart-felt drama with Rickman and Thompson, self-martyring with Sarah and Karl, and meet-cute holiday romance with John and Judy! I am definitely leaving bits out, but this is the greatest holiday movie because it is ALL holiday movies in a time-efficient package.
Courtney Enlow: AND the “potentially magical holiday person of mysteriously magical origin” archetype Rowan Atkinson.
Genevieve Burgess: Exactly! Every plot in this movie HAS been an entire made-for-TV holiday movie of its own at some point in time when they only had about 10 minutes of worthwhile content. The brilliance of Love Actually is recognizing this and saving us the time.
Rebecca Pahle: Love Actually tries to act all lovey-dovey and ultimate rom-com, but it’s such a cynical Hollywood cash grab. “We’ve thrown every single Hollywood rom-com trope at the wall—there will be SOMETHING for EVERYONE… to give us their money for, KA-CHING!”
Kristy Puchko: Fun Fact: In the original script Atkinson was a legit angel a la It’s A Wonderful Life.
Emily Chambers: Everything about this is the worst.
Emily and Sarah discuss the theme of love and get deep as shit:
Emily Chambers: As has maybe become apparent, I believe the film throws around the word “love” all too recklessly. I’m not trying to get all Sean Maguire on the movie, but if they have the ability to show deep, honest, true love, they probably shouldn’t also put those relationships in the same category as “man, I’d like to bang that hot guy.” (That is in no way to disparage the “man, I’d like to bang that hot guy” feeling. It’s glorious and should be acted upon as often as desired. It’s just not love.)
Sarah Carlson: Ehhhhhhh. There are all different kinds of love. And they don’t just show romantic love, either. Infatuation is a type of love. No, it’s not necessarily as deep or long-lasting, but I don’t mind them showing a variety.
Emily Chambers: Is infatuation love though? And that’s not because I’m high and mighty about love. I don’t believe in soul mates, I don’t believe in “the one,” I don’t believe in “true love” in terms of their being some loves that are purer than other loves. I actually think that lumping infatuation in with love is a disservice to infatuation. Infatuation is supposed to turn into love, and if it doesn’t it’s something sad and lesser than actual love. I think it’s cool if someone is infatuated with some else. It’s fun and exciting and kind of cute. It’s just not love. They aren’t the same things, and we shouldn’t expect the same things from them.
And also that was more of a complaint of some of the lines of dialog within the movie. If memory serves, Sam, Jamie, Aurelia and Sad Laura Linney Character all use the word “love” to describe their feelings.
Also I should add, I firmly believe that Billy Mack and Joe loved each other. I’m not saying they shouldn’t label non- romantic love as not love, I just think they should be more selective on which relationships qualify as love.
Sarah Carlson: Honestly, I think you’re going too deep for this movie. And maybe that’s fair because you’re in Team Fuck Love Actually and you feel the concept of love deserves more than it gets here. So I can side with that. To me, the movie never felt like it was claiming all of the relationships are just perfect and the definitions of love, etc. They just all fall into the realm of what we talk about when we talk about love — whether we’re falling into it, out of it, thinking about it, obsessing about it, falling in love with the idea of it, etc.
Emily Chambers: No, I get what you mean. And I don’t think that Love Actually should be expected to be some sort of advanced treatise on modern love. But I think that the “rounding up” to love aspects of the movie are a problem. Sad Laura Linney’s character says she’s in love with Hot Shirtless Dude. Would it be less important if she instead said she’d had a crush for two years? Or that she’d wanted to bone him for two years? Doe she have to be in love? It simultaneously cheapens both love and infatuation to imply that they act the same way. If the movies is going to be about all of the aspects of love, it should also extend to those aspects that are like love, but not love actually.
Sarah Carlson: It’s so interesting to me how protective you are of the word love — and that’s not a bad thing! I’m a lot more free-wheeling when it comes to the term. Because again, love comes in all forms. I’m also the type of person who is inclined to fall in love easily — I can fall in love with strangers, or actors, or ideas, or stories. Is that the same as being in love with a partner? No, it’s not. But I still call it love.
Yes, I want a partner with whom I agree on major things - I’d like us to have similar worldviews. But when it comes to family members? You don’t get to choose them. I have family members with whom I strongly disagree, but I don’t love them any less. Love in many ways has to transcend that. And coming from a Christian background, I’ve grown up using and hearing love in terms of it being sacrificial and unconditional. There’s a song called “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I very much believe in this song in that I believe in action — I believe that the best way to live a life following Christ is to actually follow him by caring for others. That’s why I’m so often distressed when I see people call themselves Christians and then, say, demand Syrian refugees be kept out of the U.S. The two concepts can’t coincide. And to the refugees I say — “I love you. I don’t know you, but I love you.” That’s not eros; that’s agape, or philia. Perhaps I digress too far. But I say this to illustrate that love, actually, is more than a silly movie.
Emily Chambers: It’s so interesting that you view it as me being protective of “love” because I always thought of it as being suspicious of the word. I actually think my aversion to labeling lots of this as “love” started when some of my bitchy high school and college not- friends friends judged me for being slutty. I was and still am totally ok with being more sexually permissive than they were. What pissed me off was their hypocrisy. They were in “love” with their boyfriends so there sexuality was above reproach. The fact that they were in love with a different boyfriend every 5 or 6 weeks didn’t matter because they were in love, and HOW DARE I JUDGE THEIR LOVE. As you mention in your critique of some Christians, I’m not against the idea of love incorporating a lot of emotions as much as I’m against it being used as a weapon.
I think that part of the need to label most crushes or attractions as love falls into the idea that sex with love is pure and good and healthy and sex without love is dirty and bad and hurts your spirit.
Sarah Carlson: That’s fair.
Finally, I forced my friends and co-writers to DECLARE THEMSELVES: Team Love Actually, Team Fuck Love Actually, Team I Haven’t Seen Love Actually, or Team I DON’T EVEN KNOW HONESTLY. I’m that last one.
Sarah Carlson: That last one.
Petr Knava: Team I Will Definitely Never See Love Actually
Steven Wilson: I like Petr’s designation better: Team I Will Definitely Never See Love Actually
TK: Team Fuck Y’all Hell Yes Love Actually
Emily Chambers: Team Fuck Love Actually. I’M SORRY, EMMA! I’M SORRY!
Cindy Davis: Team Despite Loving the People, I Just Can’t Give a Fuck About Love Actually Because I Was Actually Too Bored and Shut It Off.
Dustin Rowles: Team I I Hate Myself But By God I Do Love It
Genevieve Burgess: Team Generally Positively Disposed Towards It For No Particular Reason I Can Point To.
Rebecca Pahle: Team Fuck It.
And there you have it. The Pajiba staff’s definitive stances on Love Actually. Until we change it again next year.
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