For all its flaws – and it has a lot of flaws – I literally, actually, actually, actually LITERALLY love the film Love, Actually. I suspect that almost everything it gets criticized for is, basically, true: it’s lookist, sexist, ableist, weird, creepy, unhealthy…fucked-up, basically. They should have called it Fucked-Up, Basically. It’s fucked-up, basically, that that seven-year-old kid thinks he is in love with some other tiny kid he has never spoken to, and his dad, instead of saying to him yep, sure, bet she’s really pretty, but let’s get you into grief counselling, is all, like encouraging him to do the drums and run through airports and stuff. It’s fucked-up basically, that Keira Knightley is getting married when she is younger than Princess Diana was (WHY?) and that Andrew Lincoln is stalking her and then she weirdly kisses him. It’s obviously fucked-up, basically that most of the men are older than the women and it’s really, really, really, REALLY fucked-up, basically that for no reason whatsoever Laura Linney doesn’t shag the Portuguese dreamboat just because her brother rings her. I HAVE NEVER GOT THIS WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING JUST MAKE HIM WAIT UNTIL YOUR BROTHER’S CHILL AGAIN AND THEN YOU CAN FUCK! Like, honestly, at the risk of sounding, or, let’s be honest, being a bit ableist myself, isn’t that why we put people in homes? (Sorry, people in homes reading this.) Like I get it that if you had a disabled relative or child or someone you were caring for, you’d probably/maybe not have the time, energy, or even emotional space for dating or romance or even sex, but like wtf, Blokie is there already, waiting, and not wanting to slut-shame single mums here, but I know of enough one-night-stands that have taken place before bubbas were sleeping through the night to be able to report that horny men are patient enough to wait half an hour or so while you sort shit out. (Not talking about myself, obviously, as I am basically a virgin.)
So. It’s a bad film. The following things are not bad about it though: Hugh Grant really, really, really wanted to shag Tiffany from Eastenders and it showed. Colin Firth and the cleaning lady really were in love, you don’t always need words to be in love. The Wisconsin stuff was tacky and vulgar and sexist, but it was also really funny and the American actresses playing the impressed sexy sluts totally nailed it. Emma Thompson was beautiful when she realized Alan Rickman had given someone else the ugly necklace thing and, a pet peeve of mine, Martin Freedman and Joanna Page ARE NOT MEANT TO BE PORNO STARS, they are body doubles on a normal mainstream film and they’re actually a pretty cute couple to be honest.
Love, Actually is a bad film which I actually quite love. I’d like to say it was the most problematic thing I loved perfectly, but I also go to the cinema to see Bond movies and download books about business men paying off people’s student loans and then taking them to the Bahamas as their sex slave so it probably wouldn’t be true.
Love, Actually Syndrome is a syndrome I have invented, for what, in my eyes, is the film’s biggest flaw: the way none of the non-white characters have story-lines, or, for that matter, characters. Keira Knightley’s hubby, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, could not have one line to speak in the entire film and the film would be exactly the fucking same as it is now, Joanna, creepy kid’s creepy love interest, just exists to be perfect and boring and desirable and wonderful – and good at singing – Colin’s friend is one step up from an extra. Sometimes you’ll hear somewhat racist people complaining about “token” ethnic minority characters – usually in the context of a washing powder commercial, so they’re just being bitchy – but in Love, Actually, the PoC characters really are just tokens. None of the figures were written with a non-white actor in mind, none of them are the star of that story-line. They’re all just tokens. They’re all, really, just objects. It’s a shame.
But does it matter? Probably not. Love, Actually isn’t meant to be woke, is it? It’s an old film, and let’s be honest, about half of the people in it should be fired for sexual harassment. If we can forgive it for being sexist, fat-shaming, ageist, lookist – why not forgive it for being low-key racist, too? It wasn’t ever meant to be progressive. Nobody ever told you to watch it in hushed tones in the corner of an East Berlin playground, sighed mournfully, and then added you’ll really love it. It’s just Love, Actually, a weird, fucked-up film, which you always remember as more wholesome in your head than it actually is.
I get annoyed, though, when Netflix shows – I mean films or series, and I also mean mostly stuff which I think are Netflix Originals (bear in mind that we in Germany might think stuff is a Netflix Original when it actually isn’t – hello, Derry Girls!) commit the same crimes. Love, Actually Syndrome is what I call this. A million non-white characters – NONE OF WHOM GETS A DECENT STORY-LINE. I want to concentrate now on two of the worst culprits of recent times – Sex Education and The Queen’s Gambit.
Sex Education was great, it really was. I quite liked that it was set in the same part of the UK as The End of the Fucking World – like it must be Wales or somewhere? But a part of Wales that looks like America? I kind of like it, it gives these shows a kind of timeless feeling, like they’re set in the near future, or a parallel universe. I thought Sex Education was funny and witty and clever and interesting. BUT: the PoC characters got seriously sidelined. Sex Education almost – but not quite – redeemed itself by making Eric such a great character, and almost giving him a story-line – but not enough of a one, in my eyes. And ultimately this show treated the non-white characters as “supporting” acts – the two other main PoC characters literally had NO PERSONALITY WHATSOEVER – except “nice.”
I guess I would probably complain less if shows like Sex Education weren’t sold to us as these amazingly progressive shows, blah blah blah blah. The way people talk about these shows, you’d think they were the total opposite of sexist tacky crap like Love, Actually – when actually they suffer from the Love, Actually Syndrome. It makes me mad!
But the show that really, really, REALLY, really annoyed me was The Queen’s Gambit. Of course I loved it – I loved the outfits, and the chess, and the way she kept on taking all the pills and staring blankly at people. I found the chess kinda hot, to be honest. I loved recognizing Berlin, and I enjoyed not recognizing Berlin and then going back and rewatching a scene and re-recognizing Berlin. I thought, if I am going to tell the truth, that it was intelligent and well-written and brilliantly acted and wonderfully costumed (if that is a word?).
Can you remember the 90s? Do you guys remember how bad TV in the 90s was? (Apart from Gladiators and Blind Date, I mean.) Television in the 90s was so bad, we thought Ally McBeal was a good show. Imagine if we’d all been locked down in Ally McBeal times, imagine how bad our mental health(s) would be then? The Queen’s Gambit is so much better than Ally McBeal. The chess lady is so much more fascinating than that skinny lawyer. It’s like comparing chalk and shit.
But the black best friend? She was nothing, nothing, NOTHING. She was literally just a Black Best Friend. She had no personality except supportive. She was Renée. I was so pissed off, the way she just came back and supported her, and had nothing going on in her own life at all. Supportive best friend makes her sound more interesting than she really was. She was basically just a prop.
I think Netflix has done a lot for diversity, to be honest, even though I hate that word. Think about the TV series Never Have I Ever, and the romantic comedy film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, both shows that feature PoC nerds who go to model UN, and also, I suspect, shows that wouldn’t have been made for “normal” telly (I might be wrong about this!). But the truth is, I don’t actually think diversity should be your main aim when producing TV shows. I definitely don’t think diversity for diversity’s sake should be an aim – this is what leads to Love, Actually Syndrome in the first place – I don’t actually think Friends would’ve been a better TV show, or even, to be fair, any less “white”, had there been a 7th black friend who didn’t have any storyline or character of their own. And I don’t really think Friends was any less white because of Ross dating Julie and Charlie briefly, either. (Also two super-nice, super-boring characters, huh!) I don’t think the problem with Girls being so white was rectified by Hannah having a mixed-race baby.
So yeah. I think strebing desperately for diversity is to blame for Love, Actually Syndrome. Maybe a fear of being accused of racism plays a role, too – leads to TV writers making the PoC characters extra strong and kind and fair and “nice” – when in real life, nobody is nice, are they, and certainly nobody interesting. But I also think, as we get used to seeing non-white characters on TV screens in the Anglosphere, and maybe even, now and again, here in Germany, we shouldn’t actually jump to accusations of racism. Devi’s mother in Never Have I Ever, for instance, may be a stereotypical strict South Asian mother, but that doesn’t mean she is a racist stereotype. She’s a complicated character, struggling, homesick, and she loves Devi very much although I do think she dislikes her a lot, too. And she has her own back story – her own strengths and her own weaknesses, her own secrets, and she also, perhaps most importantly of all, gets a lot of funny lines.
So you guys, watch out for Love, Actually Syndrome: if I had the time, I’d copyright this baby and become a millionaire.