The Storylines In Love Actually Ranked

There is a little bit of debate about whether Love Actually is a good film or if it is actually a bad film. The answer is actually pretty simple, it is actually both.

Overall Love Actually is a charming and often moving movie but the better of its nine interlocking plot threads definitely carry the weaker ones, which in a few cases are really quite poor. In 2003 Richard Curtis was already hugely successful as a writer, after Blackadder, Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill and his adaptation of Bridget Jones’ Diary. This was his first film as a director though and I don’t think anyone can deny that someone else would have done a better job calling the shots. Love Actually is uneven and in places possibly even a little bit indulgent.

It does have its high points though and it is only in rewatching it that I have come to accept that these do win out. For a long time I was one of the naysayers but just as with so many things in my life my wife has helped me adjust my perspective for the better. At one stage in the past I went as far as to get into a lengthy debate with a friend about which was better, this or The Holiday. On revisiting The Holiday I realised my error and embarrassingly conceded that they were both terrible in their own special ways. Now that I’ve seen this again, with friends and while in a Christmassy mood, I can really see how wrong I was. I’m not a total convert though, parts of it are still dodgy, particularly when looked at with the most modern sensibilities.

Here then is my ranking of the storylines of Love Actually, from the worst to the best.

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Juliet, Peter and Mark

For years the part of Love Actually that has bugged me the most is the Colin Frissell section where he goes off to the USA to get laid. I think I’ve started to get the joke here though. The element I have the most problem with now is the stuff with Keira Knightly, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln. I’m sorry but it is creepy.

Lincoln’s Mark is tragically besotted with his best friend’s new bride. I can go with that, it could happen, but once the truth of the situation presents itself to Knightley’s Juliet she is confused because she says that she thought he never liked her. Apparently he never even really talked to her. They’re not close friends then, they’ve not connected, he doesn’t actually know her that well at all. If they’ve not really talked then this isn’t love; it’s lust and that’s an altogether different and less romantic situation. If you consider that Keira Knightly was eighteen and Andrew Lincoln was thirty then it just makes it all the more unsettling.

When he does his little Bob Dylan card trick he insists she lie to the guy that is her new husband and his best best mate which doesn’t seem healthy for any of their relationships. Also he says to say it’s doorstep carol singers and supports this conceit with a recording of Christmas songs that includes an instrumental track. ‘Just say it’s carol singers and a full band and tell him to ignore the fact that this street is apparently recreating the acoustics of the chapel at King’s College, Cambridge’. She is clearly flattered by this whole charade though and responds with a smile which is okay but then she chases him down the street and kisses him. This couple are going to have an affair for sure.

It’s all a bit wrong.

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Colin

I said I was starting to get the joke with Colin but that joke still doesn’t land right. Kris Marshall’s whole bit is like the ‘Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed.’ line from Four Weddings; it is so badly fumbled that it brings you right out of the film and makes you wonder if you even want to go back. A different director would have realised the writing wasn’t as good as Curtis clearly thought it was here and would have changed it or cut it. It just isn’t funny and it feels like a rejected sketch from a Carry On Film.

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John and Judy

I read a synopsis of the film recently and it said that Martin Freeman and Joanna Page were actor stand ins involved in setting up the sex scenes in a movie. I’d always just thought the whole thing there were working on was a porn flick, I hadn’t realised it was sex scenes, I thought it was a sex film. I mean you’ve seen what they are acting out right, these are not romantic and tender moments of love making. Anyway, I get the gag and the couple are endearing but it is just one gag and it is stretched a little thin.

Also, this might sound odd considering the context but I’m not sure the level of nakedness was required. It would have worked just as well without showing Joanna Page’s boobs. If it’s not necessary then it’s unnecessary. I’m not a prude; full frontal nudity is used as a joke in the film French film Redoubtable and it is really smart. These boobies feel slightly salacious though.

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Sarah and Karl

There’s a completely superfluous shot of Laura Linney’s breasts in her section too. Linney’s frustrated relationship with the beautiful but bland guy in her office is engagingly acted. (At least it is by her, Rodrigo Santoro displays no personality whatsoever.) It’s just so annoying though. I can admire and respect Sarah’s devotion and duty with regard to her brother but there is also some weakness in her that is keeping her alone. She may not be her own worst enemy but she’s not fighting for herself either. I feel that Karl could have been a little more understanding as well. I mean, if he’d lived with always coming second for a while then maybe I’d understand him walking away but it would be nice if he gave their relationship a bit of a go. There may be other reasons as to why these two can’t be together (other than him literally being nothing more than a pretty face)!but it is all too underwritten for us to get any inkling of this.

Probably for the best, working relationships can make things awkward.

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Billy Mack and Joe

This working relationship does work though. Bill Nighy’s performance as an ageing rock star mostly just plays for laughs and his Ant or Dec comment is the best line of the film. The laughs are broad but they are witty, apart from the joke about a fifty four year old man having sex with a twenty two year old Britney Spears which doesn’t sit easy now we have a much better idea about the extreme levels of sexual harassment and abuse that have gone on between older men and younger women in the entertainment industry. Billy Mack’s affection for his manager Joe is really quite touching though.

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Harry and Karen

I have a theory that actor Heike Makatsch has never really worked in English language films since Love Actually because everyone in the nation hates her for getting in between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. She comes on really strong too. It’s borderline sexual harassment and if it was coming from him toward her then it would be horrid. There is something in this gender reversal to be discussed from a feminist point of view but she remains a plot device in a short skirt.

Emma Thompson is of course brilliant and I think it was at this point that everyone in the world accepted this as an unequivocal fact. Alan Rickman’s behaviour is harder to forgive here than it is in any of the Harry Potters, Robin Hood or Die Hard.

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David and Natalie

Hugh Grant playing a respectable Prime Minister with courage and integrity sent pangs of wishful thinking around the UK even in 2003. Watching it now is enough to bring you to tears.

He and Martine McCutcheon made a surprisingly believable couple, certainly more than him and Andie MacDowell, and it is nice to see him playing opposite someone who is English for a change. Very English.

Richard Curtis likes to have at least one of his leading couple being famous or preternaturally successful so this is the most Richard Curtissy part of the film.

They are right though, there is a little bit of fat shaming in this bit of the narrative and she isn’t even overweight.

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Daniel and Sam

This segment shows two people connected over their love, not for one another, but for someone else. They have both lost Joanna, Daniel’s wife and Sam’s mum, and in this context their scenes are more moving than Harry and Karen’s, even with Emma Thompson’s powerhouse acting.

What is lovely here is Daniel’s total commitment to what is important to his stepson. He doesn’t belittle or patronise him because he is thirteen, he takes his young love completely seriously. You could argue that he is just trying to relate to the boy and establishing a bond following the bereavement but you get the feeling it is genuine. I also can’t help but feel that the stakes are higher here than anywhere else in the film. Daniel and Sam’s relationship is the one that needs to work more than any other because they need each other in their loss.

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Jamie and Aurélia

Maybe it is because Colin Firth is so nice but Jamie and Aurélia’s story is the sweetest aspect of Love Actually and the only plot that I wouldn’t mind being the subject of a feature film all by itself. Of course if it were stretched out there’d need to be some more conflict in there, maybe involving his focus on his writing career or her financial situation. (Hopefully what it wouldn’t have more of are the fat jokes about her sister.)

Lúcia Moniz is lovely as Aurélia as well and the moment where you realise she has been learning his language too is the single most romantic moment of the whole movie. Nothing else in the hundred and five minute running time prompts that moment that should come watching every romcom where you involuntarily put your hand on you your own heart, scrunch up your forehead and say ‘aww’.

Right, now it’s time to revisit the Nativity trilogy.

4 thoughts on “The Storylines In Love Actually Ranked

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