If you’re anything like me, your indulgences during the holiday season include: cookies, shopping for presents, listening to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You (Extra Festive)” on repeat, and watching the corniest Christmas movies. There are so many feature flicks that help me tap into the festive time of year, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th St, etc. But at least for me, the movie that has the most “reason-for-the-season” vibe has been and will continue to be Love Actually. Released in 2005 with a star-studded cast of people like Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman (RIP), Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, and Liam Neeson (just to name a few), it has gained a cult following for the propensities it gives people to explore love in all forms. And while I can’t help but binge-watch this movie with the myriad of plotlines, I thought I’d analyze if it’s possible for Love Actually to be about more than actually love.
Below, I’ve listed all the different love stories within the movie. I’m prepared to go through the synopsis for each pairing, explore the realms of possibility for this relationship existing in the real world, and finally, give each pair a “Love Actually?” rating of 1-10. The rating will explain whether or not I think the basis of these relationships is love or if love is actually the last thing these people are destined for, both on the silver screen and in real-life society. The couples will be ranked from least to most likely in love.
Juliet + Peter + Mark: Newlyweds Peter and Juliet embarked on a lifelong journey to love each other forever. It’s a beautiful wedding… that is, until we find out about Mark’s true intentions behind being the wedding videographer. Typically, Mark appears standoffish to Juliet. But when the actual hired wedding videographer’s footage became corrupted, Mark saw his opportunity to corrupt something too: the VERY new marriage of his best friends, Peter. The rest of this storyline is pretty tame until we reach the iconic cue card scene. Mark rings the doorbell, tells Juliet to say it’s carolers at the door, and confesses his love with the famous, “To me, you are perfect” line. Which, okay, in theory is really sweet, but a line was definitely crossed. I’m not too well-versed in “bro code,” but it’s human decency to NOT come onto your best friend’s wife. And then to make matters worse, Juliet EGGS him on by running after Mark and KISSING him. Can you spell P-R-O-B-L-E-M-A-T-I-C on those cue cards, Keira Knightley?! Mark walks away with a smirk and says, “Enough. That’s enough.” He’s fulfilled his ego trip of knowing his best friend’s wife may or may not harbor feelings and because it’s Christmas, this poor behavior (on both parties) is seemingly dismissable. It makes me sad for Peter. It makes me frustrated with Juliet who willingly participated. And it really makes me want to crack some of those cue cards over Mark’s hedonistic head.
Love Actually?: 3/10—Because, look, I do think Juliet does love Peter deep down. But if she had any inklings of feelings towards someone besides her fiancee for that long… maybe just postpone the wedding to sort through your own sh*t? Oh, and don’t bring innocent carolers into it!
Karen + Harry + Mia: This storyline will always shatter my heart into a million Joni Mitchell-sized pieces. Harry, played by Alan Rickman, lets himself be seduced by a trollop-y younger woman named Mia. He has two beautiful kids and a QUEEN of a wife played by Emma Thompson. While Christmas shopping in the heat of the infidelity, Harry buys a gold necklace for Mia, but Karen rightfully assumes it was for her. In their tradition of opening one gift before Christmas Day rolls around, Karen chooses the box which looks like it would be the necklace… and opens up a Joni Mitchell CD. This is spliced with a scene of the little trollop seductively fastening the necklace around her neck. This may seem insignificant, but earlier in the film, Karen had told Harry that “Joni Mitchell taught your cold-heart English wife how to feel.” And now the only thing she feels is confirmation of her husband’s dishonesty. Karen excuses herself to the bedroom and sobs to aforementioned CD but also at her husband’s actions. This also occurs RIGHT before the school play. After the show, my queen Emma Thompson confronts Harry and asks, “Tell me, if you were in my position, what would you do? Imagine your husband bought a gold necklace, and come Christmas gave it to someone else. Would you wait around to find out if it’s just a necklace, or if it’s sex and a necklace, or if, worst of all, it’s a necklace and love? Would you stay, knowing your life would always be a little worse? Or would you cut and run?” to which Harry says, “Oh god, I am so in the wrong. A classic fool!” Karen delivers this teary line, “Yes, but you’ve also made a fool out of me and you’ve made the life I lead foolish, too.” Harry lost his gem of a wife and made her feel like her life path of wife and mother was insufficient because he couldn’t remain faithful. It will never fail to make me wither into whatever blanket I’m cocooned under and sob.
- Love Actually?: 4/10—Up until little trollop Mia began her seductress games, Karen and Harry had a lovely little life together. But the most prevalent love here is the soul-crushing love of himself first without care to how his actions would affect who he really SHOULD love more: his wife and kids. This storyline rating reflects the sad reality that this is far more common than it should be, and that’s why it’s so sad. But it’s also higher than Peter, Mark, and Juliet because Karen now gets to embark on her own journey towards self-love after getting rid of that jag bag of a spouse.
John + Just Judy: This storyline is cut from the TV version because they’re body doubles on a porn set. But despite the location of where they meet, their interests in each other is so wholesome and fun to watch on screen. They’re aware of the awkward nature of their meeting, but they still blossom as potentially great lovers. In my opinion, it’s one of the most underrated plots because it can’t be played on regular TV. To see this love unfold, you gotta watch it on Netflix or a different streaming service but it’s so cute. So do it.
- Love Actually?: 5/10—It’s probably one of the most realistic storylines in terms of how it unfolds. It’s quirky and surprisingly sweet, despite most of their connection happens when acting out positions from the KamaSutra.
Colin + Americans: This one is also a good palate cleanser for the whirlwind romances in the rest of the movie. Colin is below average in the UK for women, so he makes the leap to come to the States and find women worthy of him. Where does he go? Wisconsin! The way he says it with a sense of exoticism always brings me a laugh. He meets a group of four roommates at the first bar he meanders into, and they hit it off immediately.
- Love Actually?: 6/10—I don’t know if it’s quite love, but the lust is apparent there. It’s not overpowering, but Colin really does fall in love with the idea of being good enough for women. He’s got a heart of gold and the ambition to travel for the right woman… or women in his case. It’s a lighthearted plot weaved throughout.
Billy + Joe: Billy is a jaded musician who’s disenchanted with his career. Joe is his reluctant manager who’s severely taken for granted. But throughout the whole movie and his #1 Christmas song, Billy learns the true meaning of Christmas should be spending it with people you love, and not the people who love you only while you’re in the spotlight. It’s not a romantic type of love, but it’s a good palate cleanser and still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
- Love Actually?: 6/10—Everyone deserves a friend who sticks around when the going gets tough. Because love can withstand anything.
Sarah + Karl + Michael: I always liked this one because Laura Linney’s embarrassingly accurate handling of her work crush is most similar to me. She’s had a huge crush on her coworker Karl for her whole time there, and there’s an undeniable “will they-won’t they” vibe throughout. When they get together after the office Christmas party, she’s interrupted from going all the way because she keeps taking calls from her sick brother. In a way, she’s stuck in a love triangle. She loves Karl, but that has to be superseded as a caretaker for her sick brother which is understandable. However, the build-up to the pair getting together is a bit of a letdown. Sarah was SO close to getting who she wanted. This one never really got resolved in the end, but Sarah stayed true to her responsibility to her ailing brother… I just wish she could have balanced the two because Karl is fiiiiiiiiiine AF.
- Love Actually?: 7/10—It’s a mix of sibling/familial love and a delay of what could have been probably a pretty good couple with her and Karl. I understand she had to do what she did, but I think Karl also could have reached out and found a way to make things work. Love actually? More like love adjacent.
Daniel + Carol: This story has one love story ending but another beginning. Daniel is newly widowed and in the wake of his great tragedy, he ushers his son, Sam, through the rollercoaster that is love. Unexpectedly in the midst of helping Sam woo his own girl, Daniel stumbles across a very nice woman named Carol. While their story doesn’t get much development, at the end of the movie when one month has passed since Christmas, Daniel and Carol are still together… so a budding romance? Liam Neeson usually is the star of the Taken movies, but the only thing taken here was my heart.
- Love Actually?: 7/10—This story is full of sadness, but it also boasts of a more hopeful and happy beginning. It’s a realistic look at how love finds those when they’re least expecting it.
Sam + Joanna: Sam is Daniel’s son and he is still very much grieving the loss of his mom, Joanna. And while he is experiencing that flood of emotions, he also falls in deep love with a girl with the same name at his school. This plot circles around Sam’s quest to get Joanna to notice and consequently fall in love with him before she has to go back to the States. Favorite line from our little lover boy? “Let’s go get the sh*t kicked out of us by love.” Couldn’t have said it better myself, Sammo. This is said right before the major airport mad dash scene where he somehow evades so many different personnel juuuust in time to see off his lover. There’s a sweet ending with a peck on the cheek and they’re also reunited at the very end of the movie… in that same airport, except at arrivals instead of departures. My love for these two has taken flight!
- Love Actually?: 8/10—This one warms my little hopeless romantic heart because it reminds us that love has the ability to be all-consuming and puppy-ish in nature, but it’s also the purest kind. Even though they’re young, this tale is one of my favorite to see!
Prime Minister + Natalie: This storyline is a ROYAL treat to watch unfold on screen. Natalie is such a cherubic sweetheart with a good sense of humor (I mean she has to when she says sh*t and f*ck in the same sentence merely five minutes of working for him). Hugh Grant’s character is SO protective of Natalie when the US President tries to hit on her, but he unfortunately lets her go, in part because he is so enamored with her. Although in spite of his melancholy missing of Natalie, Grant still busts a KILLER few moves and remains one of my favorite moments. Near the end of the movie, the Prime Minister finds a Christmas card from her where she signs it, “Your Natalie.” So naturally, he sets off to find her with only the knowledge that she lives in the seedy area of the UK. He goes door to door until he finds her… heading off to a school play for the holidays. He accompanies her and when they arrive, they sneak into the backstage of the theater where they share a DREAMY smooch right as the spotlight shines on them. So much for remaining incognito. They end up dating and one month after the holiday season, we see Natalie jumping into his arms at the airport. Can you say swoon?
- Love Actually?: 9/10—These two are clearly meant to be in a royal relationship. While it’s not the most practical thing to fall in love with the Prime Minister, I’d like to remind everyone that the two wives of the English princes are commoners, so maybe love is the thing to help conquer the monarchy.
Jamie + Aurelia: Personally, I’ve always had just have a major fondness towards Colin Firth as an actor, and this role is no exception. Colin Firth plays a writer stuck in a creative rut, who not to mention also just found out that his wife went and cheated with his brother. Instead of having a romantic getaway with the wife, he whisks himself away for some much needed headspace. And he falls head-over-heels, metaphorically but also into the water after his novel, with a Portuguese gem named Aurelia. Although the language barrier is fearsome, they speak the language of love. Every night when Aurelia is done with housework for Jamie, he drives her home. My favorite line from that encounter, in their own respective languages, they express how much that time means. Jamie says, “It’s my favorite part of the day, driving you home” to which Aurelia says, “It’s the saddest part of my day, leaving you.” Are you kidding me?! How would someone NOT get waterworks? In a mad dash at the end of the movie, Jamie drops off presents at his family’s house and then rushes to pursue his whirlwind romance. In a comedic visit to Aurelia’s house where the father tries to marry off the less attractive sister, the whole Portuguese village follows Jamie in his quest to propose to Aurelia. In all different dialects of Portuguese, people are theorizing what Jamie wants from Aurelia: her head, life enslavement, etc… but really, he just wants to make her the happiest woman as his wife. And he LEARNS Portuguese to propose… but little did Jamie know, Aurelia learned English to say yes—”just in cases.”
- Love Actually?: 10/10—This, hands down, is the couple with the most love. They started their courtship in the throes of a language barrier and without knowing it, they took the same commitment to learn each other’s language. They’re simplistic people who fell in love with the essence of each other without being able to properly express it. And even when they did proclaim their love, it was flawed and real… just like them. I will always love this plot the most, and it’s only PARTLY because of Colin Firth. A true fairytale. There’s something so incredible about the lengths these two went to be together, both logistically and linguistically.
This holiday season, I hope you’ll indulge a little bit and watch all these different storylines unfold. Whether or not it’s all about Love Actually is for you to decide.