Learn From This: Love Actually

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Hey guys. It’s the day before Christmas and my schedule’s about to get crazy. Today we’re on the road with limited to no Internet access, which means that updates are going to be spotty. Rather than leave you hanging, I’m republishing an article about one of my favorite Christmas movies. Hope you enjoy and have a happy holiday. I’ll see ya’ll again on the 26th.


There’re very few Christmas movies that get watched at stately NerdLove manor. There’re only so many treacly impassioned peons to the Hallmark idea of the holidays that my constitution is willing to take, so I keep my holiday viewings to the Holy Trinity of Christmas Movies: Gremlins, Die Hard and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

I may need to start adding Love Actually to the mix.

Love Actually was a 2003 holiday film with an astoundingly (British) star-studded cast – Bill Nihy! Chiwetel Ejiofor! Colin Firth! Hugh Grant! Alan Rickman! Emma Thompson! A pre-zombie-apocalypse Andrew Lincoln! A whole bunch of people I don’t know at all but are probably really important in the UK – all about love and family and what it means over the holidays.

To be perfectly honest, I was prepared to hate it. I’ve mentioned how I feel about romantic “comedies” before: they’re mawkish and unrealistic, following characters who make unwise decisions and rewarding men for not growing or changing and generally sending all the wrong messages to the audience.

So imagine my surprise when not only was this movie genuinely sweet and realistic about relationships, but it also managed to avoid my rom-com pet peeves.

(Well, except for one.)

“Hope it was worth it son. Because you’re about to go to jail for a long, LONG time…”

This really is a movie that guys could learn a few things from. Things like…

There’s A Fine Line Between Clever and Creepy – Colin (Kriss Marshall), a would-be raconteur and wit with a… well, a face even a mother might have some issues with, prefers to try to woo women with his scintillating dialogue and snappy reparte. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t quite know where the line is when it comes to his jokes and trips over it with glorious abandon on a regular basis. Whether it’s calling the attractive secretary his future wife (she doesn’t appreciate it) or telling guests at a wedding that the hors d’oeuvres resemble slices of baby feet, it seems that the only thing his mouth is good for is sticking his foot in it. Some people are masters of using offensive humor effectively. Others are not. And if you don’t work on your social calibration very carefully, your attempts at being funny are going to lead to a lot of blank stares and awkward silences at best.

You Can Find Love Anywhere  John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are a couple of freelancers, a pair of working stiffs working at the same job. There’s an almost instant chemistry; they’re incredibly comfortable together almost immediately and they can chat with the sort of ease that usually comes with a life-long friendship.

Oh, and they’re both nude body doubles for a graphic sex scene in an upcoming movie.

Love is, literally, where you find it.

You’re Not Fooling Anyone – Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) in love with Juliet (Keira Knightly). Sarah’s (Laura Linney) in love with Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). Sam (Thomas Sangster) is feeling the pangs of first love for one of his classmates. All of them think that they’ve managed to conceal their affections from the rest of the world… except everybody can see it. And they’re perfectly willing to call them out on it. In fact, in Sarah’s case, it’s become a running joke that everybody in her office knows… including the man she’s in love with. Mark manages to fool Juliet and her new husband by being cold and stand-off-ish, but the rest of his friends can tell, and his feelings are abundantly clear in his work.

Both Sarah and Mark might have saved themselves some stress and heartache if they hadn’t spent so much time concealing how they feel… and along those lines

You Need To Make A Move – Sarah has spent nearly three years pining for the handsome Karl1, spending long lonely nights alone and tending to her mentally ill brother. Nearly three years of silently suffering all of the pangs that come with unrequited love instead of coming forward and asking Karl out. Similarly, Sam is convinced that Joanna has no idea he’s even alive and is content to let himself agonize over her instead of trying to talk to her. If he had, he might have found out that she’s known who he was all this time and even thought he was pretty cute. Mark felt that he had lost the game before it had even started; Juliet was dating – now marrying –  his best friend in the world, which left her in forbidden territory. But instead of making his feelings known early and getting the awkwardness out of the way, he bottled them up and crippled what might have been an incredible friendship.

Communication Is More Than Words – I’ve mentioned before about how much of the way humans communicate is non-verbal , and nowhere in the movie is this more emphasized than between Jaime (Colin Firth) and Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). Jaime speaks no Portuguese and Aurélia only knows individual words in English, but the way they behave around each other helps bridge the gap. Jaime – a writer – may not be able to use his words to convey who he is, but his actions do the all of the talking for him. It doesn’t take very much for Aurélia to learn that he’s a genuinely warm and caring man. Similarly, Aurélia finds him charming if a bit silly, and her attraction to him is telegraphed in her body language and the way she putters about helping him. Words can be pretty and they can do a lot of work for you, but it’s your behavior that will tell the real story.

  1. and his euro-mullet, what the hell? []

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  • I love this movie. It never fails to make me smile, and I like that it covers a lot of different types of love and outcomes. And hey! Liam Neeson gets to be someone's father and not die! So that's always nice.

  • Katherine

    I love this movie! It has been re-tried with Valentine's Day and now New Year's Eve. They all kiss the mark.

  • Atalie

    "There’re only so many treacly impassioned peons to the Hallmark idea of the holidays that my constitution is willing to take…" ~ I totally agree. As a non-fan of both Christmas and sappiness my holiday viewing list is limited to Doctor Who Christmas specials and the Muppets Christmas Carol. But, Love Actually is a big WIN. It's hilarious, more realistic than many romantic movies, I really like the vignettes of several interconnected characters format, and like you said, gotta love the accents! I have to admit that Mark's poster declaration did get to me…what a heart punch! Did you watch the deleted scenes? They would have done well to leave them in and cut some of Colin's inane conversation in the "real American bar". 🙂

  • Jerusha

    I love this movie, and it has a special place in my heart because it was the one my husband and I watched the night he proposed. And I love it for all the reasons you mentioned. (Although I'm with you on Die Hard being one of my favorite Christmas movies.)

    • Dr. NerdLove

      I heartily recommend that everyone also watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang on Christmas. It's an unappreciated classic. Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon) at his best.

  • MavenCree

    You only slightly mentioned one of my favourite 'loves' in this movie. Yes, Sam loves Joanna, and Daniel meets Carol, but there's also the development of the love between step father and step son. At the beginning of the film Sam calls him Daniel. It's only at the end when he starts calling him Dad. And that helicopter hug at the airport after the whole security breech thing (can I just add I luuuuv Rowan Atkinson's character for what he did there), always manages to make me tear up a little bit. They both lost this woman and had to learn to live with each other without her. Daniel was afraid he wouldn't be up to the task of being single dad, but he does it.

    There's also the sibling love between Sarah and Michael, but Michael creeps me out so I usually FF past his scenes.

    And the story of the Prime Minster – as a big girl I absolutely love that one – not everyone is after a size 6.

    Congrats on the increase of viewer hits btw (Long Live the League)! Well deserved.

    • Nick

      "Michael creeps me out so I usually FF past his scenes"

      Fuck you and your perfect life. I'm sorry mental illness exists in the world. Thinking about it must be so difficult for you!

  • Nick

    I agree with everything you said except that the relationship between Professors Snape and Trelawney had failed by the end of the movie and she is clearly tolerating his presence, probably for the sake of their children. Watch that last scene again: their reunion is forced and hollow, providing a sad note to this movie's rather insightful look at the many, many facets of love.

  • I felt that the Snape and Trelawney thread was left in a sort of limbo. that they may move one way or the other. It's interesting to note that originally Atkison's character was supposed to be a sort of "angel" that was tied to all of the story threads moving people along their path to finding love.

  • I think you mean "paean" to Hallmarkm not peon . . .

  • Trooper6

    Wow…DNL, your language has really changed in the last 53 weeks. This post has a *lot* of evo-psych and PUA language in it…and not used ironically! I just want to say that I really like the way you've evolved in the last year.

    • CmE

      I've always thought of Dr Nerdlove as a brilliant and fascinating attempt to synthesize pickup, feminism, and geek culture. It contains a few inherent contradictions but the man has a lot of writing skill and manages to gloss over them very, very well.

      • Gentleman Johnny

        The ability to believe two contradictory things which are nonetheless true is a far underrated quality in our society,

        • thepaleking74

          Isn't that the definition of cognitive dissonance? Not a good quality to have, actually.

  • CmE

    Always had a soft spot for Love Actually. Pretty sure Sarah and her brother are just unhealthily codependent though, but it's been a while since I watched it.

  • Beth

    I just want to say that I love everyone in this post who is commenting about "Snape and Trelawney's" marriage.

  • LeeEsq

    Merry Christmas or whatever everybody. DNL makes some good points about what you could learn from Love, Actually. There are dissenting opinions though. A recent article on Salon made a very convincing argument that Love, Actually is a very creepy movie with all sorts of bad lessons like the key to mending a broken heart is to fall in love with a hot woman you, literally, can't understand or if you're unsuccessful with women in your home country go abroad and come across as an eccentrically charming foreigner abroad.

  • One of my favorite movies I have seen is '500 days of summer'.

    My friends asked me why I liked it so much, and it was because I had never seen a movie about a guy who likes a girl, and does not end up with her, and they captured those feelings so flawlessly, that I don't think they ever need to make another movie about what its feels like to like someone, and they don't feel the same way.

  • Glides

    Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a freakin' classic.

  • I actually just watched this movie for the first time this year. It's entirely possible I'm just horribly jaded… but I wasn't feeling the "It's worth the hardships" moral.

    There was a a lot of different kinds of relationships… but the two really established relationships that stuck out were… well, the one we didn't even see in action because Daniel's wife had just died. The other Harry cheats on Karen. Karen still looked pretty heartbroken at the end, like maybe they reconciled but there is no way that relationship will be as light as it once was. All the other relationships are new and shiny, or whatever. Except Sarah's, which doesn't even get off the ground, of course.

    Wow okay maybe I shouldn't even post this. I just don't see the 'worth it' part. What good is the initial shiny and new when it's eventually going to suck, and then just keep on sucking?

    (This isn't entirely fair, I know damned well that there are perfectly valid relationships that exist that nobody is dead yet and nobody got cheated on, my parents are a perfect example of that. I just… can't seem to drum up the required enthusiasm, all the same. This movie made me cry a lot and it wasn't a good kind of cry. So i mean it gets points for being well made and invoking emotion but I'm still going to hiss at it like an angry cat.)

  • wysewomon

    Don't forget David and Natalie! It's my favourite relationship in the movie, partly because David falls for the "plump" girl with the "huge thighs" (and I have to say, watching it last night, I was a bit aghast at that characterization–I didn't consider that actress very plump at all!), but also because Natalie is so free-spirited and open, unabashed (much) by her gaffes. And the incident between her and Billy Bob Thorton is the catalyst for David to realise his power as the PM.