Rating The Plot Lines In ‘Love Actually’

It’s the day before Christmas and all through the house are the sounds of Love Actually coming from the living room, because tradition in our house is for my mother to watch that movie over and over again while I hide in my room and listen to normal music. I have seen this damn movie so many times. At first I loved it. Then I found it slightly annoying. And now I hate it. But let’s be real: it’s not all bad. Here’s a quick little guide to the best and worst story lines in this madcap Christmas romantic comedy.

GREAT: Harry and Karen

This is definitely the best plot line of the film. Can’t we all agree? First of all, of course Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson would have the best/worst marriage in cinema. It only makes sense for that marriage to be depicted in the best/worst Christmas movie ever made. But not only is this story the strongest, writing wise, it’s consistently the one that tears everyone apart. The scene in which Karen discovers that her husband is probably cheating on her with his tarty (tarty! British!) secretary and she cries along to Joni Mitchell? Don’t act like you haven’t dramatically reacted to every minor life crisis the exact same way.

AWFUL: Jamie and Aurelia

Colin Firth is all Mister Darcy over the fact that his girlfriend sleeping with his brother, so he has to run away to sunny France for Christmas so he can spend the holiday alone and write a novel on his typewriter. Who uses a typewriter?! This ain’t Brooklyn, Jamie. Luckily, he has a hot Portuguese cleaning lady who he falls in love with, and it’s an interesting take on class status in Europe. Ha ha, just kidding, but isn’t it hilarious when Jamie can’t speak Portugese really well at the end? (Nope.)

GREAT: David and Natalie

Sure, it’s kind of weird that this plot line about the Prime Minister and a member of his staff devotes a few scenes to the Iraq war and disparages the United States presidency with a composite of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (Southern, ass-grabbing) played by Billy Bob Thornton. And then, you know, the Prime Minister falls in love with someone on his staff. But he doesn’t grab her ass! Instead, he dances to the Pointer Sisters. (Ah, those Brits, always making me ask the question, “Is he gay or just English?”) But Hugh Grant is adorable as hell in this, and props to the since-unseen Martine McCutcheon for looking cute as a button and looking like a normal human woman with a real, bangin’ body.  

AWFUL: Sarah and Karl

Why does Laura Linney live in London? What is going on with her mentally ill brother? Why does he call so much? Why does she have a thing for Karl? (OK, that answer is obvious.) Why does Karl string her along? Why does Karl drop her based entirely on the fact that she has a mentally ill brother who calls her too much? I dunno, Karl, maybe you not be a dick for a second and a half and realize that maybe you could take the lady out on a date instead of just trying to bang her after the company holiday party? Or maybe Sarah should wise up and realize that Karl—his name is Karl, for Christ’s sake—is kind of a jag off and maaaaybe she shouldn’t shit where she eats? She already has enough on her plate with her brother, you know?

GREAT: Daniel and Sam

How awkward is it to watch Love Actually now that Natasha Richardson has died? Obviously Liam Neeson’s character would deal with the death of his wife by breaking the necks of a lot of evil Europeans. Or wolves, or something. Luckily, this story line focuses on the love between Daniel and his stepson, Sam. Sam, who is the most adorable child in the history of film, steals everyone’s hearts with his sad face and his mussy hair and his obsession with the American girl who is really only in this movie to remind everyone how awesome “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is. But like Harry and Karen’s story, this plot line is one of the best because it walks the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking.

THE WORST: Mark, Juliet, and Peter

Hey, Mark? If you’re in love with your best friend’s new wife, maybe you should stop hanging around them and filming their wedding and showing up at the door to profess your love to her with some silly Bob Dylan-style speech-with-cue-cards thing. ‘Cause that is some bullllllllshit. You are a terrible person. And Juliet? Don’t think you’re off the hook for kissing him. I know you think he’s sweet and everything, but you have a husband inside the house—right there inside the house—so maybe you shouldn’t participate in his terrible, evil best friend’s efforts to break you two apart because he’s kind of a selfish, sad puppy of a man. And Peter? Pull your head out of your ass. Shit is going down all around you and you’re too busy organizing choirs to sing to your wife. 

GREAT: John and Judy

Tits, basically. And Martin Freeman. So thumbs up!

THE WEIRDEST: Billy Mack and Joe

We can blame this movie for Bill Nighy’s weird career, right? But even I don’t even know what the hell is going on in this one. Sure, I’m beginning to get "Christmas Is All Around" stuck in my head for the rest of the week, and a British bromance is darling, I suppose. But nothing about the resolution of this story—basically, the image of two old Brits sitting around on Christmas eve, hugging and watching porn together—makes me want to do anything but vomit all of the cinematic eggnog I’ve willingly accepted for nearly two-and-a-half hours. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter

‘Love Actually’ Deleted Scenes Would Have Made Movie More Ridiculous, Heartbreaking

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…