In most circles, declaring that you dislike the film Love Actually is akin to declaring you think Stalin had some progressive policies.
OPINION: "How can you not like Love Actually?" they gasp. "Are you the Christmas Grinch?"
For goodness' sake, Johnny English was better
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Love Actually's cinematic release, and it has become the Christmas movie to end all Christmas movies. The tradition of cracking open the DVD over the holidays has become as time-honoured as cracking open a fourth bottle of bubbles or Uncle Barry cracking inappropriate jokes about what Santa does down the chimney.
Love Actually is cheap, schmaltzy rubbish, argues Natalie Bochenski.
And yet, and yet, there are some of us who cringe every time we see this Richard Curtis-penned crowd favourite. We feel you fans have been brainwashed, but accusations of "Grinch!" keep us silent, for we risk becoming shameful outcasts should we confess.
But here I am, preparing for disgust, dismay and outright abuse, as I outline seven reasons why Love Actually is terrible, actually.
I love so much of Richard Curtis' work. Blackadder remains one of the best ever TV sitcoms. Mr Bean was a thing. Notting Hill is sweet. Curtis also wrote my favourite ever Christmas movie - 1991's Bernard and the Genie (absolutely worth tracking down).
But what made him think it was a good idea to lovingly reference his own breakout movie? Bill Nighy's character's dodgy Christmas song is Christmas is All Around, a parody of Love is All Around from Four Weddings and a Funeral. It's supposed to come off as good-natured (Nighy bags it out repeatedly), but it comes off as arrogant. There are many sappy pop songs he could've chosen to fulfil the same purpose. The fact he's deliberately referencing the rom-com he wrote that everyone loved is setting the audience up to connect their justifiable feel-good feelings about Four Weddings to Love Actually. He is treating the audience like Pavlov treated his pooches. We non-fans hate that you bite.
It's not as romantic as you think it is.
Leaving aside Keira Knightley's relentless pouting, her whole storyline with Andrew Lincoln is creepy.
If your husband's best friend turned up on your doorstep telling you not to speak and declaring his love via a dodgy Bob Dylan impression, you'd call the police. At the very least you'd call your husband and the pair of you would carefully explain the definition of the term "stalker" and try to set some boundaries. Instead, Knightley kisses him.
Lincoln walking away telling himself "Enough" while Dido plays is supposed to be a line in the sand. I just can't shake the feeling that Chiwetel Ejiofor will end up lined in chalk as Lincoln goes all John Hinckley and declares "No one else can have her!"
See the entire Colin sequence. Now I love hating on Americans as much as the next person, but according to Curtis, American girls are vacuous who'll sleep with anyone with a slightly-exotic accent, and that just can't be 100 per cent true. Yes, it's a fantasy, but that doesn't stop it being ridiculous, especially from a movie that tries to set itself up as showing examples of "real" relationships.
There is only one example of a "real" relationship.
Unsurprisingly it's the storyline with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, two fine actors who seem to disprove the old adage that "you can't polish a turd" by showing the devastation one simple, tiny act of betrayal can cause.
Rickman's predatory PA is way over-the-top, but at least his interactions with Thompson show humanity and honesty, plus Alan Rickman's deep, velvety voice. Honestly, the filmmakers should've just replaced the entire movie with an extended take of Alan Rickman reciting Christmas carols.
On a related note...
What the hell was Rowan Atkinson doing?
The point of having a pompous, meticulous department store attendant was to increase Alan Rickman's sense of panic that he would be caught buying a gift for his intended bit on the side.
Instead it's just frustrating, as any normal person would just storm off, shirty with the attendant, then think perhaps it was a good thing after all because hey, I'm married and maybe should be thinking about gifts for my wife.
Rowan Atkinson is capable of so much better and all he gets this scene? For goodness sake, Johnny English was better.
It just ignores reality.
One of the better storylines is Laura Linney's harassed graphic designer hooking up with a co-worker despite the fact that she's dowdy (yep, welcome to the movies). He seems to be interested in a physical relationship, but pulls the plug after one phone call from her unwell brother.
Frankly, the hot guy is a douchebag, and Laura Linney is better off without him. A good person, who appreciates that people are complex and have personal circumstances that require understanding would say, "I know that life isn't easy, so take all the time you need. I'll fix you a drink, and when you're ready, we'll totally do it like rabbits then. Twice."
Meanwhile Liam Neeson is understandably distraught by the death of his wife, but his stepson, his late wife's child, seems remarkably upbeat. Forget the woman who nurtured him from birth being suddenly ripped away, there's a girl at school he likes! What is he, 10 years old? What universe is this?
And the Hugh Grant story? I'm sorry, Britain, but you don't get bachelor PMs like Hugh Grant. You get bachelor PMs like Sir Edward Heath (look him up).
The inclusion of Martine McCutcheon as Grant's love interest was heralded as a triumph for curvy girls, although I bet you can't name a movie she's been in since. Admittedly, her wide-eyed naivety is engaging, but what's with the sexual harassment angle? So the Prime Minister of Britain decides to speak up against the American president because he's all hands? Not because, you know, it's in the best interests of the country?
And yes, if you look at the timeline, Grant standing up to Billy Bob Thornton occurs at the same time that real life PM Tony Blair was throwing in his lot with George W. Bush in Iraq. So it's wish fulfilment. Australians get that. "We stood up to America, yeah! Take that, you nasty Yankee president!" But come on. Let's not forget 400 years of Britannia rules the waves, guys. You're on the permanent UN security council. You've still got nukes. You're a big deal, OK, and you don't need a fictional wizard and a squeaky-voiced footballer's feet to prove it.
It's deliberately manipulative.
Great Christmas movies evoke emotion, but they should have some class about it.
The ending of Love Actually comes across as if Richard Curtis wrote Screenwriting for Dummies then copied his own advice for "climax" - an implausible chase scene (what PM goes out and about without security?), the smiling kiddies, the snatched kiss that becomes public property, the incessant Mariah Carey music.
Don't get me wrong, I cried. I sobbed tears of regret that I wasn't strong enough to combat wave after wave of schmaltz. Love Actually is like Wizz Fizz; it gives you a great buzz but it's empty calories.
And now, my soul laid bare, and in the spirit of Christmas, I prepare myself for the onslaught of hate.
But for the Love Actually fans among you, for those of you who insist you watch it with a special someone or with all the family gathered, think on this.
There will be one amongst your number who doesn't like Love Actually. They may even loathe it. They would rather be listening to more of Uncle Barry's off-colour jokes about snowballs than watching Keira Knightley pout. And yet, and yet, they're watching it for you. Now if that's not love, I don't know what is, actually.
- Sydney Morning Herald