Finally, Dreyfuss argues that characters do indeed overcome obstacles in order to be together: Firth learns Portuguese, Moniz learns English, etc. I would add, in a related vein, that Brodie-Sangster learns to play the drums. But that’s not what I meant when I argued that the film never shows any of its (many) romantic protagonists overcoming obstacles to their affection. My point, rather, was that despite its extensive running time, the film never shows its lovers working through any issue of contention between them. Firth learns Portuguese alone, ditto Moniz, ditto Brodie-Sangster. These, too, are grand gestures of love—I love you so much I learned a foreign language!—but they are not examples of two people negotiating their way through a relationship.
Dreyfuss recognizes this, I think, which brings us to the nub of his argument. He writes:
Orr goes on to point out that, as opposed to every romantic comedy ever, Love Actually dedicates no real time to showing the couples getting to know each other. This is undeniably true—and it is an asset!... Love Actually is about, largely, the period before people get to know each other.
We agree! The problem is that two paragraphs later, he forgets that we agree:
So, you meet someone and feel something instantly and then you imagine a thousand conversations in your mind and you become enamored with a fantasy and you know it's a fantasy but as you get to know the person really every new thing you learn seems to reaffirm the fantasy… [bold mine]
That sounds like a good movie. Just not, as Dreyfuss himself noted, like Love Actually.
In any case, after a lively and heartfelt disquisition on the value (and, for most folks, difficulty) of making grand romantic gestures—again, I completely agree!—Dreyfuss, too, steps into the mud puddle that is the Keira Knightley storyline. Yes, it’s finally time to go there.
Of the subplot, Drefuss writes, “It may be romantic and evil, but it’s still romantic!” I’ve been puzzling over this statement, and I’m still not convinced that I can envision any scenario that I would consider to be both romantic and evil. Which is, I think the core of the problem with the subplot: It’s trying to be two things that are fundamentally incompatible.
Once Knightley becomes aware of Lincoln’s infatuation, Lincoln has a few options. He could a) do nothing and just wait for it all to blow over; b) try to defuse the situation by saying, in effect, “don’t worry about this, I’ll be fine”; or c) declare his love with at least some hope of reciprocation, and without caring what terrible repercussions might befall his relationship with his best friend or said best friend’s marriage.
Obviously, he doesn’t choose option a). But does he choose b) or does he choose c)? The answer, I think, is both—and thus neither.
If Lincoln genuinely wanted to defuse the situation, here are some of the things he could have written on his cue cards: “I’m really sorry to have put you in such an awkward position”; “I would never do anything to hurt my friendship or your marriage”; “I’ll eventually get over this and move on”; “I look forward to the day when we’re best chums and can look back on this and laugh.”