As the holidays approach, it’s finally time for my favorite annual tradition: rewatching Love, Actually as much as humanly possible in the span of a few months. The British rom com has cemented itself as one of the most popular Christmas movies of the modern era, though admittedly, much of the movie doesn’t hold up well in the 2020s. But if you can look past the bizarre fat-shaming and the status quo early-2000s toxic masculinity, you’ll find that Love, Actually is still full of evergreen lessons about dating, relationships, and love that will never lose their relevancy.
When you love someone, tell them.
While it’s easy to take issue with the fact that Mark (Andrew Lincoln) professes his love to Juliet (Keira Knightley), his best friend’s WIFE, you have to admit that it’s the most iconic part of the whole movie for a reason. You probably shouldn’t go around telling your friends’ significant others that you’re in love with them, but you absolutely should tell people you love them when you feel it. In fact, one of the reasons that scene is so well-loved is probably in part because most people don’t feel like they have the courage to put themselves out there like that, especially when rejection seems likely. But if that emotionally stunted man could write down his emotions on giant pieces of poster board, then so can you.
If someone loves you, they won’t give a damn about what anyone else has to say.
We’re going to skip over the fact that Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) was brutally fat-shamed for no reason throughout the entire movie and instead focus on the fact that Prime Minister David (Hugh Grant) absolutely did not listen to anyone who had something bad to say about her. Because when you love someone, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t find them as attractive as you do, or if people don’t think they’re as funny as you do, or if people don’t think they’re as smart as you do. All that matters is what they mean to you.
… But when someone DOES have something bad to say, they’ll be sure to defend you.
After Prime Minister Hugh Grant heard President Billy Bob Thorton making inappropriate comments about Natalie, he publicly went on to defend her, even putting UK-USA foreign relations at stake to make a statement. I mean, you probably shouldn’t do that specifically! But when you love someone, you’re on their team, which means you stand up for them when they can’t stand up for themselves.
Sometimes the best way to say “I love you” is without ever saying a word.
When English Jamie (Colin Firth) and Portuguese Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) meet, they struggle to communicate because of the language barrier. While they don’t communicate much at first, they eventually find other ways to relate to one another, going out of their way to show each other small acts of kindness and trying their best to understand where the other was coming from, even without words. And while dating someone you can’t communicate with at all isn’t ideal, it’s also a good reminder that there are other ways to show someone that you love them—and they’re just as important.
When you love someone, you’ll go the extra mile for them—and when they love you back, they’ll go the extra mile for you, too.
Speaking of Jamie and Aurélia, by the end of the movie, it’s revealed that he learned to speak Portuguese for her, while she learned to speak English for him. This is a particularly sweet detail in the film, because it shows that they were both dedicated to go out of their way to learn something new (and difficult!) for the other. Because when you love someone, you’ll put in the effort. You’ll go the extra mile. Say what you want about this couple, but that alone shows more dedication than pretty much all of the other couples in the movie put together.
Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone to find love.
When Colin (Kris Marshall) finds himself unlucky in love in England, he decides to travel to the United States, mostly because he’s been told that American women go crazy over British accents. While this is admittedly one of the dumber storylines in the movie, I will say this—Colin is willing to go out of his comfort zone to find love, and it (very stupidly) works! And while you probably shouldn’t do exactly what Colin did, you definitely should be willing to put yourself out there and try new experiences, because you never know when you’ll meet someone who will change your whole life.
Sometimes the timing just isn’t right—and sometimes it’s the person who’s wrong.
Sarah (Laura Linney) is so in love with her coworker Karl (the very attractive Rodrigo Santoro) that she could tell you down to the exact minute when she realized her feelings for him. But when she finally gets her shot with him, she’s constantly interrupted by her brother Michael, who is mentally ill and living in a care facility. In the end, she cuts the night short to go be with her brother, much to Karl’s dismay. But you know what? Sometimes the timing just isn’t right, and sometimes shit happens—that’s okay. Sarah also thought the timing would never be right before, and she still got her shot with Karl. And if he isn’t willing to try again with her later, then let’s face it: he’s just not worth it. Michael is always going to be a part of Sarah’s life, and if Karl doesn’t recognize and accept that it’s a package deal, then he clearly isn’t the right person. Because yeah, sure, sometimes it really just is that the timing isn’t right, but sometimes it’s just that you chose the wrong person.
Playing games probably won’t get their attention—but being direct will.
When Sam (a young Thomas Sangster) falls for his classmate, he decides to learn to play the drums to try to win her over. In the end, his dedication to the craft doesn’t do him any favors, but when he runs after his classmate (in an airport, no less!) to clearly express his feelings to her, he finds out she feels the same way. Sam may be a literal elementary school child, but it’s a good lesson for everyone of every age—you can jump through hoops to try to get someone’s attention, but at the end of the day, the most successful way to get them to notice you is to just be direct. Sure, now Sam has a super cool musical hobby, but he could have saved so much time and energy (and saved his stepdad from having to hear a whole lot of loud drum playing and lovelorn wallowing) if he’d just told his crush how he felt from the beginning.
Don’t cheat on your significant other.
Seems obvious, but Harry (Alan Rickman) apparently didn’t get the memo.
Sometimes our greatest loves aren’t romantic at all.
Rock ‘n’ Roll legend Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) realizes that the person he’d most like to spend Christmas with is his manager and longtime friend Joe (Gregor Fisher). Sarah (Laura Linney) chooses to spend her holiday with her brother. Daniel (Liam Neeson) spends most of the movie trying to support his newly-orphaned stepson in his own pursuit of love. All of that is to say: Sometimes our greatest love stories aren’t romantic at all. They’re with our friends, our family, or even our found family. And that love is just as important as any romance.
… And sometimes the most important person we can love is ourselves.
In fact, perhaps our most important love story should be with ourselves. When Karen (Emma Thompson) realizes her husband (I’m looking at you again, Alan Rickman) has been cheating on her, she finally decides to do the first non-selfless thing she’s done in the whole movie and separates from him. Because you can love everyone around you with everything you have, but you’ll never be truly happy unless you can do the same for yourself first.