WARNING: This piece contains a big fat spoiler for The Undoing (2020).
I know what you're thinking. Please, no more Love Actually discourse. It's 2020; haven't we suffered enough? I get it. The movie has taken a (kind of delayed) beating since its release all the way back in 2003, drawing criticisms that range from an unrealistic depiction of love to outright misogyny; claims that make you want to shake your fist at the gods and shout: can't I enjoy anything anymore?
And while I don't mind shutting my brain off to enjoy a big dumb rom-com, I also have my limits. And in 2020, I am convinced that Love Actually has finally become impossible to watch, thanks mainly to its storyline concerning the Prime Minister of Britain, played by Hugh Grant. Let me explain.
Hugh Grant's Evil Now
When Love Actually was released in 2003, it capitalised on Grant's reputation for playing blundering romantic leads in classics like Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999). While he did kind of start to switch things up as sleazebag in Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), he was still as loveable as ever, making him the perfect candidate to play a hot, fantasy British PM come Richard Curtis' ensemble rom-com.
In recent years, though, the actor's leaned into his darker side. In the mini-series A Very English Scandal (2018) he played Jeremy Thorpe, a closeted politician who conspired to murder his ex-boyfriend, and in The Undoing (2020) he bludgeoned a woman to death. This is to say nothing of Paddington 2, where he tried to incriminate and hurt Paddington. Smh.
Don't get me wrong, I love evil Hugh Grant (apparently so does he), but one of the consequences is that Prime Ministerial banter in Love Actually that was oh-so-charming to early 2000s audiences doesn't go down like it used to.
It's Gross To Hit On Your Tea Lady Now
I don't know why the storyline seemed cute to me at the time, but it now strikes me as really weird and gross that a 50-year-old PM would hit on their much younger, more working-class assistant, as Hugh Grant's character does in Love Actually. I mean, yeah, they were both into each other, but look at it in light of 2018's #MeToo movement and the whole thing is just… ick.
It happened 15 years after Love Actually was released, but the #MeToo movement showed us how so much violence against women happens when men exploit power imbalances. I'm not saying that's what happened in Love Actually, but to me, those sexy 'boss and secretary' storylines no longer vibe.
The Office Of British PM Is Bad Now
In recent years, 10 Downing Street has also lost some of its intrigue and prestige (as has the UK itself). Ever since former Prime Minister David Cameron skulked off to Spain when the Brits voted yes to Brexit in 2016, the seat of the British Prime Minister has become less 'exalted statesperson' and more 'whoever is around', especially given that Boris Johnson, repeat Boris Johnson, is now in the role.
No One Needs British Patriotism Right Now
Like Australian patriotism, British patriotism is uncomfortable at the best of times, but there is maybe no worse time for it than the present. Unfortunately, though, it's exactly what Love Actually offers when Hugh Grant's PM goes head-to-head with the US President (played by Billy Bob Thornton) to the film's sweeping soundtrack as Grant lists off British things like 'The Beatles', 'Churchill' and 'Harry Potter', to random audience guffaws. (Nina Sosanya deserved better.)
I'm sorry, but it's just not the time to spin off lines like "we may be a small country, but we're a great one too", and "a friend who bullies us is no longer a friend", as though England hasn't historically been one of the biggest bullies, to put it mildly, of all time. Incidentally, a statue of Churchill was defaced as part of this year's Black Lives Matter movement, so it's not a great time to gush about him either.
The PM's speech also reeks of British (or more specifically, English) exceptionalism. The myth that England is inherently different and superior to the rest of the world not only underpinned the UK voting to leave the EU in 2016, but even Boris Johnson's shambolic response to the coronavirus pandemic. Hugh's speech may have seemed harmless in 2003, but the last few years have been especially illuminating in exposing that the emperor has no clothes.
Anyway, you get the gist. Watching Love Actually is just not tenable for me in 2020. As a society, we have moved on. And before you get mad at me for ruining Christmas, I will refer you to Hugh Grant himself. "I don't know why Love Actually is still so popular", he said in 2018. I rest my case.
Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer at MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank
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