I'm going to tell you something that has made me an outcast around the holidays since I was, oh, say, 13 years old. Before this week, I had never seen Love Actually . Despite the fact that it's a Christmas classic, it's on the long, long list of movies that I've never made it a priority to see. (I've never seen It's A Wonderful Life, either, but that's a whole separate article.) Love Actually has become an irrevocable part of our cultural zeitgeist since 2003, but I don't like romance movies, and all my favorite Christmas movies are animated. That reasoning was enough for me to skip watching the film at every available opportunity for 12 years, and enough for me to develop some expectations about Love Actually that were either confirmed or destroyed by actually watching the damn movie.
So what did I know about Love Actually before I queued the film up on Netflix? Honestly, not a lot. There were only four things that I could say I knew for sure:
- It's incredibly popular.
- People watch it every Christmas.
- It's some kind of ensemble film like New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.
- It's a romance movie.
Yeah, that was it. I was surprised by the film about two minutes into it, honestly. But now I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go step-by-step through what I expected from Love Actually before watching it, and what really happened as I watched.
Expectation: I Thought The Title Was A Nod To The Genre
A romance movie called Love Actually? How inventive and original, Hollywood. I have no idea what you were shooting for here.
Reality: It's Part Of A Song And Part Of A Line
Literally less than five minutes into this movie, and with a little Google research, I realized they actually took the phrase "love actually" from something that they applied to the film. It's something I wouldn't even think would work as a film title, but now I can't imagine the movie with any other name.
Expectation: It Was An American Movie
It must be the American in me, assuming that everything is about us, but the sheer number of British actors in the movie bewildered me until I ran another Google search and found out that Love Actually is, in fact, a British film.
Reality: So, Yeah, It's Actually British
I mean, really, leave it to America to dump England's tea in a harbor and then, 200 years later, become obsessed with their movies, their actors, their royal families, and their boy wizards.
Expectation: There Would Be No People Of Color In This Movie
In my defense, this was mainly an impression that I got from the movie poster. The poster for the film features such great talents as Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson. Such great white talents.
Reality: Oh, Hi, Chiwetel Ejiofor
The fact that Chiwetel Ejiofor is not only marrying Keira Knightley, but the groom in the wedding that acts as the catalyst for, or continuation of, so many of the plot lines in the movie would have been enough for me. But then you have other characters like Colin's friend Tony, trying desperately to teach him that that's not how America works, and, my personal favorite person in the movie, Joanna.
Expectation: I Wouldn't Recognize The Actors
This is a pretty common problem of mine, because I hardly know who anyone is ever. And, considering this is an ensemble film from 2003, I pretty much expected it to be actors that were more my parents' time than mine.
Reality: I Wouldn't Recognize The Actors... Back Then
Had I watched this movie in 2003, that would have been the reality. Well, I would have recognized Keira Knightley from Pirates of the Caribbean, but that would be about it. Now, Ejiofor has been in 12 Years A Slave, Martin Freeman has been in Sherlock, Colin Firth has been in The King's Speech, Liam Neeson has had his on-screen family Taken, and Hugh Grant has been in — and I'm not proud it's taken me this long — The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It's like a smorgasbord of every British actor I love.
Expectation: I Would Be Bored By All Of The Romances
Listen, I'm not a romance person. I'm just not. If the entire point of the story is that a boy and a girl, or a boy and a boy, or a girl and a girl, are falling in love with each other and overcoming obstacles to be together, I'm tuning out faster than I would if you throw in space travel and aliens. I thought from the start that Love Actually wouldn't be the movie for me.
Reality: What Is WRONG With Alan Rickman?
Technically, I was mostly correct. However, two plots completely proved my expectations wrong. The first was Sam and Joanna. As mentioned, I looked upon Liam Neeson and Thomas Sangster's entire plot with new fondness once I discovered that Joanna was played by Olivia Olsen, an African-American child actress. To hear Sam singing the praises of a girl that turned out to look like me was the sweetest thing ever. The second was Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman's storyline. Once I climbed onto the Internet and found out everyone was as angry about it as I was, and the question of whether or not they got a divorce was still ongoing until December 2015, I felt vindicated. Because I am still so angry. Dammit, Snape!
Expectation: It Was Just A Silly Romance Movie
The movie is literally called Love Actually. I expected two hours of mind-numbing boredom while trying to avoid playing Bejeweled on my phone until this sapfest was over.
Reality: It Actually Has Something For Everyone
Love Actually is a romance movie, sure. But it's also a tragedy (I'm looking at you, Harry and Karen). It's a comedy (I'm looking at you, Colin and the American girls). It's a family film (Daniel and Sam). It's an international film (Jamie and Aurélia). It's a little bit of everything rolled into a bunch of vaguely interconnected vignettes, and I wish someone had told me that sooner. Then again, I wouldn't have listened.
Expectation: I Wouldn't Get The Hype After So Many Years
This film came out in 2003. Twelve years ago. The fact that everyone keeps talking about it every single year seemed to be proof that it was the kind of thing that you get nostalgic over, but not anything groundbreaking. Not anymore.
Reality: I Still Don't Get The Hype, But I Understand The Cultural Relevance
However, there's really something to be said about being, perhaps not the person to do something first, but the person to do it the best. And that's what I felt while watching Love Actually. Sure, I haven't watched any other vignette-based, ensemble films surrounding a holiday and/or romance, but Love Actually was kind of a masterpiece for the way it continues to inspire parodies, inspire people, and inspire emotions in those people every holiday season.
I'll probably never watch it again, but I'm also glad that I waited. It seems like the kind of movie I could only have appreciated a decade too late.
Image: Universal Pictures (15)