Dunking on Stuff Is Out, Loving It Is in
To me, Love, Actually, is perfect.
At around this time every year, the takes on Love, Actually start rolling in. It’s actually a problematic movie, it’s a bad movie, it’s actually a good movie, the only good part of the movie is the little boy … you’ve seen them. And it is of course not the only holiday movie to get this treatment. The Family Stone is another favored target of Christmas movie bashers. Not even institutionalized classics like It’s a Wonderful Life are safe. (In fairness, I just rewatched this one a few weeks ago and somehow I don’t remember it being quite that dark). But this year — this long, exhausting, depressing, lonely year — let’s just let people live.
The first time I remember seeing an anti-Love Actually screed was in Jezebel in 2013 in an article titled: "I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You" by Lindy West (who, incidentally, I love and admire to pieces). “If that’s not the epitome of unexamined privilege — declaring that the airport is your favorite place — then I don’t know what is. Welcome to Love Actually,” the article begins, going on to excoriate the film for its treatment of female characters, none of whom appear to have any sort of inner life, as well as its absurd structure and plot, such as it has. In truth, it’s a hilarious article, and I had always had the same thought about Keira Knightley’s strange, hairy bridal sweater.
But still — I was distressed. You see I loved watching Hugh Grant run up and down the dodgy end of the longest street in the world looking for Natalie. And I loved Colin Firth proposing in bad Portuguese to his former housekeeper. And yes, I am annoyed that the movie considers any woman above a size 4 unfathomably fat, but I still cry every time I watch the scene of Emma Thompson softly sobbing to Joni Mitchell on Christmas and nobody can take that away from me — not even the brilliant Lindy West.
Self-aggrandizing “this thing you like is actually bad” opinions, or even movements, have been going on for time immemorial. There was the outsized loathing for disco in the ‘70s, the global pile-on of Nickelback in the 2000s, the first brave soul to declare Infinite Jest a bad book, you get the idea. Disliking an otherwise popular thing can induce a little rush of smug satisfaction. Scoffing at things is fun, and I have devoted hours of my life shouting about how bad the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice is (a shameful contribution to the misapprehension that Jane Austen was cheesy and a waste of a perfect cast).
At the same time, let’s read the room, shall we? This is the year 2020. We’ve been stuck inside for months and the pandemic rages on; we’re struggling financially; it gets dark by mid-afternoon; and many of us won’t get to celebrate the holidays with family at all. I’m tired. You’re tired. And we’re all a little crabby. Much as I would enjoy snarking on some movie I think you’re wrong to love, this is maybe not the moment.
After the Jezebel article, anti-Love Actually sentiment caught on, and it suddenly became the unpopular opinion to enjoy the movie rather than hate it. Leading, of course, to the next stage in the normal life cycle of any extraordinarily popular cultural artifact — hot takes passionately defending the formerly beloved, then despised thing.
Most years, my own contribution to holiday movie criticism is that The Holiday is actually the worst Christmas movie. “How can you like a movie that has Kate Winslet settling for Jack Black at the end while Cameron Diaz gets a sweeping romance with Jude Law?” I would demand of my poor innocent friends who literally just wanted to watch a light rom-com that made them feel a little comforted in this sad, dark world. But why should I force my friends to expend energy defending a movie they enjoy? Why should I expend energy bashing it? Haven’t we all been through enough? If there is one thing this emotional rollercoaster of a year has done, it has thrust into pretty sharp relief the difference between a petty grievance and actual calamity.
The truth is there are plenty of things I hate that other people like, things that to me seem banal or irritating or shallow. But before I fix my fingers to tweet out my next hot take dunking on someone else’s happy holiday traditions, I have to ask if it’s really worth it. I can always fret about silly things next year. As a great philosopher once said, “There’s people that are dying, Kim.”
So, maybe this year, as a little holiday treat, we let people love what they love without judgment. Or at least keep the judgment to yourself.