Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson
Written & Directed by: Richard Curtis
How good is this movie?
Ugh, I don’t even know where to start with this movie. It’s already been thoroughly (and justly) eviscerated in this article by Christopher Orr, and I don’t really have anything to add. Let me just second Orr’s concession that the relationships between Daniel and Sam and between John and Judy are two of the film’s few bright spots. For the most part, though, I’m discouraged, frustrated, and even a little insulted that a film supposedly about “love, actually” could offer a version of love so narrow, so cynical, and so wrong.
How ace is this movie?
The opening montage of people being reunited at the airport – friends, lovers, spouses, family-members – suggests that the movie is going to be about various kinds of love. However, almost all of its storylines end up being about sex or romance. Moreover, sex and romance are treated in a fairly normative, homogeneous way. All the couples are straight, and “love” is overwhelmingly equated with primary physical attraction. A full three storylines are about young people who meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Another is about a sexually frustrated asshole who discovers how to have sex with lots of hot women. Some of the romances fail, it’s true, but one does so only because she’s married to someone else; one because having romance is apparently incompatible with having familial obligations; and one because they’ve been married so long that the passion is gone – and without passion what is there? There’s nothing wrong with depicting heterosexuality, but the movie betrays its early promise by depicting so much of it, of such a uniform kind, at the expense of all the other, more ace-relevant forms of love.
Platonic and familial love do show up occasionally, but they don’t play a big enough role in the story to counterbalance its erotocentrism. The most developed relationship is between the recently widowed Daniel and his step-son Sam. Their bonding story is sweet, but also revolves around Sam’s questionable attempt to impress a girl he has never spoken to. Daniel has a close friendship with Karen, but we see very little of it. Nor do we see much of Karen’s relationship with her brother David. The one scene where they meet, just after Karen has discovered Harry’s infidelity, is touching, but David is more interested in snogging his aide than comforting his sister. Sarah certainly has time for her brother, but Michael is barely developed as a character, and functions mostly as an obstacle to Sarah’s romance with Karl. Finally, there’s Bill’s Christmas Eve revelation that the love of his life is actually his manager, Joe. I appreciate this acknowledgement that friendship is also a form of love, but it’s the only one in the movie.
By far the most interesting sub-plot is the one between John and Judy, who bond while simulating movie sex scenes. They’re the only characters who fall in love by getting to know each other rather than through primary physical attraction. This is ironic, given the circumstances in which they meet, but even seeing each other naked and engaging in sexual poses doesn’t seem to give them as much pleasure as conversing. These sequences may well speak to asexuals, and a line at the film’s end suggests that, even after a month of dating, the two haven’t had sex. However, the line also suggests that they plan to eventually. Moreover, John and Judy’s relationship could also stand as a model of healthy dating for allosexuals. John does not simply fixate on seducing Judy; he takes the time to get to know her. He snogs her on their first date, but does not push for anything more. And, in one brief but telling sequence, he asks permission before touching her breasts (as part of the simulation) and actually rubs his hands together so they won’t be too cold for her. Ultimately, John and Judy feel less like the lone ace couple in a world full of allosexuals than like the lone couple who practice sensitivity, respect, and consent in a world full of the shallow, the manipulative, and the entitled.
How ace is Alan Rickman?
Character: Harry (clueless, grumpy husband with a wandering eye)
Not only does he have a wife and children, but he shows clear signs of sexual interest in Mia. He seems conflicted about Mia’s advances and doesn’t pursue her very aggressively, but that’s because he lacks confidence, not desire. Although we don’t know if they ever have sex, his gift of a necklace shows that he would be willing to, despite the pain it would cause Karen. Basically, there’s no way to imagine him as ace.
What if he is?
What, he’s an asexual stuck in a sexual marriage who decides to escape from it by reciprocating the clearly sexual advances of an attractive younger woman? Sorry, not buying it.
2.5 Stars; 2 Aces