When it comes to the holiday romantic comedy genre, one movie stands out above the rest for its popularity and staying power: love in fact. As the quintessential rom-com, we’d expect the “love” they often refer to in both the film’s title and famous intro voiceover is for the many couples in the story. In the nearly twenty holiday seasons that have passed since love in fact‘s premiere nearly two decades ago, the film is revisited time and time again. The holiday season is often accompanied by talk about the couple love in fact is the best, which romance is a fan favorite, and which previously idealized relationship seems increasingly problematic over time. In reality, however, the best depictions of unconditional love in love in fact romantic relationships are not at all. Instead, it’s the other, more low-key relationships that truly represent love.
Unromantic love shines in ‘Love Actually’
love in fact is known for the way it intertwines many stories. Several love stories unfold simultaneously as viewers slowly discover how closely the stories are connected. A scene reveals that Sarah (Laura Linney) is friends with Mark (Andre Lincoln); other breadcrumbs lead us to discover that Karen (Emma Thompson), Daniel (Liam Neeson), and David (Hugh Grant) are all siblings, and so on. In the network of many relationships in love in fact, there are seemingly endless low-profile relationships to discover. Yet by the end of the film, when the now-famous opening of Heathrow Airport gets its heartwarming bookend, the stories mesh perfectly, and the audience is mostly happy with the romances that unfolded and how we leave couples on the way to happily ever after.
Since there are so many relationships and intrigues in love in fact, it’s no wonder the fan-favorite couple is notoriously polarizing. David and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) are apparently the couple at the heart of the film. Some like the unorthodox sparks between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lucie Moniz), while others argue that what looks like kindred spirits in this situation is actually superficiality. Many even argue that Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Mark are the favorites for best portrayal of “love,” though fans on this side of the fence could easily fight their way through a heated debate. What is not so often discussed, however, is the case for love in factnon-romantic love. The love that prevails over others is the love stories throughout, and it’s not about romance at all.
Sibling love prevails in ‘Love Actually’
Sarah’s story in love in fact is hard to forget and also one that seems to leave us with an unhappy ending. In fact, it’s hard to watch love in fact without feeling like there’s some kind of weird underlying blame placed on Sarah for prioritizing a different kind of love over romance. Sarah is in love with her colleague, Karl (rodrigo santoro) for years when they finally meet at an office Christmas party and Karl comes home with her. She is repeatedly interrupted to answer her brother’s phone who appears to be in a psychiatric ward and feels particularly overwhelmed. It’s clear that Sarah cares for her brother, and despite Karl’s insistence that she not answer the phone, she does every time. There’s an implication that Sarah is missing out on her opportunity for romantic love here, though many might say she’s right to pass up that opportunity and wait to find someone who meets her admirable priorities. Regardless, Sarah finds herself endlessly romantic, but she has always prioritized love in her life above all else. This way, she and her brother both have a realistic, love-filled ending.
Karen’s motherly love in ‘Love Actually’
Another love in fact memorable story and feels unsatisfactory is Karen’s. Karen is a devoted wife and mother when her husband, Harry (Alan Rickman), is having an affair with a colleague. She finds a necklace that she thinks is for her, but while opening presents she finds that he bought the necklace for someone else and instead gives her a Joni Mitchell CD. Perhaps the most poignant part of love in fact occurs when Karen retreats to the bedroom and puts on her new CD, taking a moment to cry as “Both Sides Now” plays. The scene only cuts briefly to show Mia trying on the necklace.
It’s easy to assume during this scene that love in fact meant to put some weight behind that word “actually”. This suggests that the love affairs in this film are not like in the movies; rather they are how love Actually is. In a situation like Sarah’s, where she loves someone who doesn’t care to be patient with her, or like Karen’s, where she loves someone who hasn’t kept up their end of the bargain love, we get glimpses of love “actually.” These two characters seem to lose “love” and end up with the “really”. Yet, like Sarah, Karen also ends up winning in her own way. It is clear that this scene is particularly important for love in fact; it’s vastly different in pace and feel from any other moment in the film. Viewers almost feel like they’re going into a time warp with Karen as she tries to pull herself together and come back down to earth. When she does, however, she dries her tears, straightens her bedspread, and goes to get her kids ready for their Christmas pageant.
It’s surely a relatable moment for mothers, but more than that, it’s worth noting that Karen’s love for her children keeps her from spoiling a school play on a heartbreaking revelation. When this story ends at the airport during the final scene, it is unclear whether Karen and Harry are together or not. Regardless, however, they are clearly not happy with each other. The implication is that Karen isn’t done with love, but if you have something to ground you in the darkest times and a reason to fight to stay strong, then it’s probably a manifestation of love. more powerful than many romances.
“Love in fact” values friendship
There is another remarkable story in love in fact which has something unique to say about love, in particular. Billy Mac (Bill Nighy) has a very different storyline than the others. In the end, most of these characters ended up in a romantic relationship. Billy Mack also finds love, but in a totally different and unexpected way: when he professes his love for his manager, Joe (Gregor Fisher). Billy is a notorious playboy and womanizer who spends most of his time love in fact mocking Joe in a way that borders on verbal abuse. Yet, at the end of the day, Billy admits that his relationship with the friend who is always with him is actually the one he values the most. Seeing an example of that kind of love is so important in a movie about love, especially during the holidays. This love is very different from romance, sure, but just as important. This kind of love is about acknowledging the value of certain people in your life that you don’t usually recognize.
‘Love Actually’ finds love in grief
Of course, one of the most heartwarming storylines in love in fact is the one following Daniel and Sam (Thomas Brodie Sangster). While it’s easy to attribute the impact of this story to his wholesome view of young love and how cute it is when Sam walks through the airport to get to Joanna (Olivia Olson), this story is less about the bond between the children and more about a stepfather and stepson helping each other through grief. Of course, many fans would notice this particular story as one of the most important threads of love in fact, but it’s especially important to note what makes this scenario particularly poignant. It is an illustration of love that is powerful and relatable and that we rarely see.
By listing the examples of love in love in fact, many fans and annual re-watchers would think David would go door to door looking for Natalie or Jamie would learn Italian to propose to Aurelia. And, of course, these are quintessential rom-com moments. But, if we think of love”Actually“, the shining moments have nothing to do with romance but are always about love.