Love Actually is one of those movies that we culturally tend to revisit every year, and generally decide that it’s pretty ridiculous and cheesy and maybe not actually as great of a movie as we remember, but ultimately, most people love it anyway, and that’s okay. And every year we do this, and every year we rewatch it with the same conclusions. Over the weekend, I ended up joining some friends in this ritual, and watching the deleted scenes for the first time, even though this is a movie that’s been around for nearly a decade (#RememberThe00s). And director Richard Curtis, in his commentary, is right—they would have not only made the movie too long by another hour (and it’s already a bit too long), but they would have completely changed the movie. In most cases, they veer more towards tacky ridiculousness, but in some cases, Curtis lost some genuine, tender and even super depressing moments that would have evened the whole thing out.
Much of the extracted material comes from the plotline involving Liam Neeson’s character and his son, played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who is all grown up now and gonna be on Game of Thrones next season, thanks IMDb!). There’s a ridiculous 15-minute extension of the scene where little Sam is locked in his room and won’t come out, and Liam Neeson takes the time to look up Claudia Schiffer naked as a means of coping with his recent loss. There’s a struggle with some popups, and Sam giving his dad advice on how to improve his Google skills, and it’s all a little weird. Even weirder is the character trait Curtis attempted to shoehorn for young Sam, who was originally going to be obliquely referred to as a world-class gymnast throughout the film and have it revealed in the airport chase scene at the end. This sounds like something a writer adds on to make a character "quirky," like Natalie Portman’s alligator figure-skating costume in Garden State. This was better left out of the thing.
Curtis did have to remove one of the briefer relationship subplots because he had to lose the scene that transitions into it, which is a shame for a few reasons, one of which is that it’s the only same-sex partnership in a movie that tries to show so many interpretations of love. This one’s a two-parter, and it suffers from a bit of mood whiplash: Karen (Emma Thompson) is called into school by the headmistress because her young son (the one who complains about his role in the Christmas concert), wrote an essay about how his Christmas wish is that "he could see people’s farts." It’s cute, it’s kind of dumb, it didn’t add enough, but it brought the brief look into the headmistress’ home life down with it. In Curtis’ attempt to show the ways in which we enter people’s narratives without even realizing, and what everyone we meet hides at home, and all that heavy-handed stuff, we see an exchange between the headmistress and her partner, who is dying of cancer. The scene is wrenching, but the conversation is about normal stuff, like the school day and making sausages for dinner, and at a time when most on-screen gay and lesbian couples were still preening sidekicks, it was nice to see a sweet and realistic (although amped up with the melodrama of cancer) relationship in the same movie as the Londoner who goes to Milwaukee and meets Denise Richards.
Apparently, in an effort to show that "love actually is all around," Curtis and the team shot some scenes in Kenya that were never actually used. The idea was to skew the typically "Western" portrayal of Africa, although Curtis kind of reinforces it by displaying the whole "joy in poverty" thing usually seen in the Facebook albums of your well-meaning friends who went on mission trips or whatever there. See, they’re poor, and their crops are dying, but it’s okay, because they have each other, and that’s all you need. Except when you live in an agrarian society and… anyway, the scene is cute and all, but it doesn’t present Kenya (or the unfortunate blanket, continent-as-one-country sort of perception of Africa) particularly differently and would have only really worked if Curtis had then gone all over the world to find other stereotypical, It’s A Small World-ish love stories to complement it. But then the movie would have been, like, three hours and…