Of the movie’s seven romantic plotlines, too, I think one is rather endearing. Having Martin Freeman and Joanna Page discover they're attracted to one another in the midst of pretty much the least romantic activity possible—being ordered into a variety of rushed, pseudo-erotic poses on a movie set—is a clever conceit, and tidily executed.
As for the rest of the film—which is to say, the bulk of the film—I think it offers up at least three disturbing lessons about love. First, that love is overwhelmingly a product of physical attraction and requires virtually no verbal communication or intellectual/emotional affinity of any kind. Second, that the principal barrier to consummating a relationship is mustering the nerve to say “I love you”—preferably with some grand gesture—and that once you manage that, you’re basically on the fast track to nuptial bliss. And third, that any actual obstacle to romantic fulfillment, however surmountable, is not worth the effort it would require to overcome.
Begin with the elevation of physical attraction over any of the other factors typically associated with romantic compatibility: similar likes and dislikes, overlapping senses of humor, shared values, what have you. Grant falls in love with McCutcheon the first time he speaks with her—“Get a grip,” he chides himself moments afterward—when essentially the only thing he knows about her is that she accidentally uses profanity a lot. (Charming? Sure. Evidence of a soul mate? Unlikely.) Firth and Moniz, meanwhile, fall in love despite not sharing a word of language in common. Moreover, the movie telegraphs very clearly that the moment when Firth really falls for Moniz is when he watches her strip down to her underwear.
The pattern is repeated throughout the film. Brodie-Sangster is in love with a beautiful, popular girl at school with whom he’s never spoken. Neeson recognizes that a ray of sunshine may enter his entombed love life the instant he meets a mom who looks exactly like (i.e., is played by) Claudia Schiffer. We can assume, I suppose, that Linney and Santoro have had some conversations—they do work in the same office, after all—but the film doesn’t bother to show them having any. All we know about him is that she thinks he’s “too good for her” and, later, that he has washboard abs. The storyline regarding Marshall’s quest for American babes is played as a gag, of course: dorky British guy is convinced that his accent will prove irresistible to super-hotties in Wisconsin—and, lo and behold, he’s right! But the plotline’s comically exaggerated infatuation with physical attraction is actually not very far out of keeping with the rest of the film.
Creepiest of all is the storyline involving Lincoln and Knightley. Why is he so desperately in love with his best friend’s bride? Well, it’s not the result of any conversation they’ve had or experience they’ve shared, because the movie is at pains to note that he’s barely spoken to her and he goes out of his way to avoid her company. Indeed, the video tribute to her bridal radiance that he records at her wedding makes pretty clear what it is about her that so captivates him. (Hint: not her mind.) And he, too, like Neeson, ultimately suggests that the only way he will ever get over this love of his life is by hooking up with a supermodel. I’m barely scratching the surface of what’s wrong with this subplot—the movie’s worst—which somehow manages to present the idea that it’s romantic to go behind a friend’s back to ostentatiously declare your everlasting love for his wife. But let’s not get off track.