This brings me to the most important point in defense of the movie: the greatness of grand gestures.
One of the movie’s “disturbing lessons about love,” Orr writes, is 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.”
He’s right that relationships don’t become permanent and perfect just because someone says “I love you.” But the movie recognizes this—take Lincoln’s confession of love to Knightley, for example. More importantly, it recognizes the hand-wringing nervousness that comes from confessing care, and from having an all-consuming crush on another person, as a real and authentic part of romantic love.
Lewis agrees. “The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory,” he writes. Becoming fascinated with someone else is so exciting, so nerve-racking—it’s “the total agony of being in love,” observes Brodie-Sangster, quite a wise 11-year-old.
On the most basic level, this is why I love Love Actually and, I think, it's part of why people are drawn to romantic movies in the first place: the excitement and power of demonstrations of love. None of the movie’s characters manages to pull off a Hollywood-perfect version of this. Hugh Grant, who plays Britain’s prime minister, gets caught kissing one of his staffers, played by Martine McCutcheon, on stage at her nephew’s Christmas play. Colin Firth proposes to his former house cleaner, Lúcia Moniz, in grammatically sketchy Portuguese. Martin Freeman’s character meets Joanna Page’s character while they’re working as body doubles on the set of a soft-core porn movie, yet he fumbles their first kiss after he finally asks her out on a date. These scenarios are messy, awkward, and often hilarious, but they are also winning, because they make the universe seem ever-so-slightly more wondrous.
If the real world is not like this, then perhaps it’s the real world that needs to change—we’d be better off if there were more grand gestures. These are moments that remind of how special life really is: The gesturer gets the thrill of delighting someone they care about; the recipient feels as though they are uniquely worth of someone’s affections; and bystanders believe that, one day, they too might find the high heights of enthusiastic, whirlwind love. Especially at Christmas time, when new snow and Mariah Carey and the smell of pine make the world seem magical even for Jews like me, big expressions of feeling should be applauded, not condemned—and perhaps that’s why Love Actually has been declared a “‘classic’ holiday film.”
For those keeping score on the C.S. Lewis front, you’ll notice I’ve only mentioned three loves, not four. That’s because charity, the fourth love, is where the “Christian apologist” part of Lewis’s work becomes unavoidable: The three “natural loves” of affection, friendship, and eros cannot equal or replace the loving relationship we experience with God, he says. Any argument I could make for applying this concept to Love Actually would be total bullshit, so for now, let’s stick with three.
But I think three loves do the trick. Love Actually is not solely romantic, but it’s also not un-romantic. Although it may have flaws, these imperfections probably make it more romantic, because they make it more true to the complicated nature of love in real life. I refuse to be shamed into taking my Netflix and bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats and retreating into my bedroom to watch the movie in secret. C.S. and I will enjoy our annual viewing with pride.