movies

Sorry, but we need to talk about a hugely problematic storyline in Love Actually.

Warning: negative feelings about everyone’s favourite Christmas film ahead.

On Saturday night, I snuggled into bed with a face mask on after a long, hard day of being hungover.

“You know what I need right now?” I thought to myself as I tucked into my Uber Eats meal, “A Christmas movie.

(Yes – I ate in bed because I am a garbage human, sorry Mum).

The Netflix heavens opened up and delivered with Love Actually, the 2003 festive British rom-com which has stood the test of time, and that I’ve watched approximately 6453 times to date.

But while the film has never failed to leave me with the Christmas warm and fuzzies that can only come from a soundtrack of bells and sweeping violins and cheesy holiday romance in the past, this time, it left me with something else: a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach (and it wasn’t the remnants of my hangover).

Why?

Because of the frankly awful treatment of one of its characters that I had never fully unpacked before.

I’m talking about Natalie.

As in the character who is fired after being sexually harassed by the US President (Billy Bob Thornton), and who is constantly at the end of nasty fat-jokes.

Look – there are some endearing qualities to the workplace romance plot between Hugh Grant’s British Prime Minister character David and his staff member Natalie; the scene where she accidentally lets her real personality slip at work and swears like a sailor on her first day is all-too relatable, and David knocking on every door in a London neighbourhood to find her is too heartwarming.

Not to mention this:

BUT, other than the fact that the film horribly fumbles a glaring instance of sexual harassment in the workplace (Natalie is “re-distributed” after Hugh Grant’s character walks in on the President hitting on her, a moment which left her teary and flustered), she is constantly body-shamed and not a tiny bit about it is funny.

Firstly, I feel the need to point out that the film’s ‘fat jokes’ are about a woman who by all standards is slim.

Not that any of the rhetoric around her would be okay if she was larger – but it simply makes the references to her weight all the more bizarre. If this woman is ‘chubby’, to the point where it’s a punchline, what are the rest of us?

Secondly, there’s NOTHING WRONG with being curvy. Just like there’s nothing wrong with being slender. We should be celebrating all shapes and sizes of the female form instead of…laughing at it through bizarrely dated fat-jokes that should have disappeared from blockbuster scripts long before 2003.

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But more importantly: why is her weight even part of the storyline? What does it have to do with anything other than the fact that her ex-boyfriend also joined in on the fat-shaming once upon a time and Hugh Grant’s character…sort of doesn’t?

AND how does his character…not bullying her…all of a sudden make him the most charming man she’s ever met?

Are we supposed to pretend him responding to another member of staff referring to her as “the chubby girl” with “Oooh, would we call her chubby?” as him valiantly defending her constant body-shaming?

I mean: he also fired her after catching the sleazy President’s wildly inappropriate advances towards her that were clearly non-consensual.

HE should have ended up alone, along with the late Alan Rickman’s character and that awful sex-crazed Colin, played by Kris Marshall. If only we could swap out their happy endings for Laura Linney and Emma Thompson’s incredibly bleak ones.

Later on in the film, Natalie’s dad is also heard called her “Plumpy”. What a delightful term of endearment from a family member.

If anyone’s ever been subjected to a joke targeted at their weight, by ANYONE, including their own family, they’ll know there’s never a time when it’s funny. NEVER.

It’s cruel, it’s humiliating, and it’s not something we should have ever seen played out on screens for a cheap laugh.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able wrap my head around the running joke surrounding Natalie’s weight throughout the film.

It will never make sense to me.

…But a lot about the Love Actually plot is problematic.

It truly is the definition of a problematic favourite.

If we dive deeper, it has many, many flaws; the complete lack of LBGT representation coupled with an undertone of homophobia within Bill Nighy and his manager Joe’s interaction, the blatant sexism (we barely see women interacting with each other, and most of the female dialogue involves them interacting romantically with men), and the vast underdevelopment of characters altogether (seriously, Aurelia and Colin Firth’s character Jamie spent, what, TWO WEEKS together and all of a sudden he’s flying to Portugal to PROPOSE?! Pls.)

And don’t even get me STARTED on the Joni Mitchell CD scene.

Yet, we can’t help but find ourselves excitedly sitting down to watch it each year, drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Sigh, maybe we just shouldn’t try to make sense of it…

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