My Big Fat Problem With Love, Actually

Here in beautiful Communist Canada, it's officially okay to get ready for Christmas now. We've had Thanksgiving. We've had Halloween. We've had Remembrance Day. Now we get to fire up the Mariah, light a bunch of Bath & Body Works Candles that smell like food and hang sparkly shit from everything.

And, of course, I am officially sanctioning the best part of Christmas: Christmas movies. As a rule, I fucking love Christmas movies. I will watch every single version of A Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life you want to give me. Muppets? Great. Modern? Great. Space? Great. Bill Murray? Great. In the words of the poets, Queen, "I want it all I want it all I want it all and I want it now."

But one new traditional Christmas movie that I desperately want to love, and just can't, is Love, Actually.

Love, Actually came out when I was fifteen, was obsessed with a boy who didn't like me and was constantly worried about my weight. So perhaps the best movie to go and see wasn't the one featuring a tableau of characters falling in and out of love, Keira Knightley's perfect stomach and an unrelenting undercurrent of fat-shaming.

Seriously – Love, Actually has to be one of the most fat-shamey movies since Shallow Hal. Let's travel down the sub-plots from most fat-shame-y to least:

David and Natalie: The Prime Minister and his chunky female aid.

Despite the fact that Natalie looks like a real-life Disney princess, and is – at most – maybe 10 pounds overweight, the entire story line here is that she's a big fat fatty and that the PM is slightly too old to be going for her. Key quotes include, "[My ex-boyfriend] said no one'd fancy a girl with thighs the size of tree trunks." Thank God this aged prince was able to look past her hideous appearance. Also Hugh Grant doesn't quite look old enough for people to be taking pot-shots at his age, so this felt like a bit of miscasting all around.

Edited to add: The argument that Natalie's meant to be a Monica Lewinsky stand-in are absolutely on the nose and no less fat-shamey. Add to that the comments about class or the power dynamic between Natalie and David and this story line gets all the more problematic.

Jamie and Aurelia: The cuckold writer and his Portuguese housekeeper.

Hahahaha. It's funny, because for a second Aurelia's ugly, fat older sister thinks he's there for her. What a laugh! And then her father – who tried to sell her to the strange Englishman out of desperation, calls her Miss Dunkin' Donut 2003! Funny stuff, guys.

Edited to add: Let's not forget that this is also the story of a man whose been cheated on by his girlfriend and brother, who falls in love with a woman he's never said a single word to, in part because she took off her clothes and jumped into the lake once. So the fact that all Jamie really has to go on is her appearance makes the pot-shots at her sister even worse.

Harry, Karen and Mia: The middle-aged couple and the sexy secretary

Karen (Emma Thompson) complains about feeling fat at her husband's Christmas party, especially while standing next to the younger, much thinner and very sexual Mia. Her husband reassures her that she's not fat, and then has an affair with the younger, hotter secretary. This story line was actually handled very well, with a lot of sympathy and understanding being aimed at Karen's character, but the point remains.

Edited to add: What I hate most is the idea that this story was somehow inevitable. And that it wasn't 100% Harry's fault — oh, that Mia: she's a mantrap. While we get the feeling that Mia herself is unhappy, there's a remaining sense that Harry was pulled into her web and (even though, frankly, it is obvious that they slept together) there's a certain amount of ambiguity in how much Harry really has cheated. When I say "obvious," I mean if you look at the scene where Mia puts on the necklace, she's wearing a nightie and her bed is unmade. In the middle of the day. Where'd she get the necklace, why is she in her underwear, and why is the bed unmade? Because adultery.

Billy Mack and Joe: The rock star and his manager.

In one of the final scenes, Billy Mack jokingly says:

I don't know. Er, either I could behave like a real rock and roll loser and get drunk with my fat manager... or, when I hang up, I'll be flooded by invitations to a large number of glamorous parties.

Not the worst, arguably, but still – Richard Curtis (and God I love you, Richard) had to get that last mate-y jab in there.

John and Judy: The body doubles

No fat-shaming per se, although Martin Freeman has joked that Richard Curtis thought it worked better comedically for Freeman to be in less than great shape for this part.

Colin, Tony and the American Girls: The British caterers and the American chixxx who totally dig British accents.

No fat-shaming, but a gross undercurrent of sexism and one rather insane fantasy scenario.

Edited to add: Seriously, this is the most fucked-up of all the stories. Hot, bisexual, underwear-free Miluakee woman who happen to be hanging out at a shitty bar on Christmas Eve and are just dying to take home a not terribly impressive British dude. And then said dude brings home a babe for his friend to enjoy? I kept waiting for him to wake up, and maybe that was the point, but they could have and should have cut this from the whole movie.

Juliet, Peter and Mark: The new bride, her new husband and cue-card Sherriff Rick.

Unless I'm mistaken, we're basically fat-shame-free here. We could discuss the incredibly creepy and weird plot itself, but let's not. Although Keira's stomach is still a self-hate-inducing work of art.

Edited to add: No, but seriously. Those cue cards are the worst. And returning to the problem with Jamie, they establish early on that Mark made Juliet think he hated her the whole time he's known her. So how well could he have gotten to know a woman that he was deliberately rude to for, presumably, years? Add to that the fact that he feels comfortable declaring his love for her not during the time they were dating, not after the engagement was announced, not before the wedding, but weeks after the wedding. This guy is an asshole of the highest order and I have a hard time believing any happily-married woman wouldn't have just slammed the door in his face.

Sarah, Karl and Michael: The graphic designer, the super hot dude at the office and the troubled brother.

Again, no fat shaming here. Still crazy depressing.

Edited to add: What makes me most uncomfortable about this story is the idea that a woman with a mentally troubled (challenged?) brother couldn't live a normal life and have normal relationships. Add to that the slight fantasy element of Karl, the impossibly hot office dude with the body of an underwear model, making Sarah's choice all the more upsetting for an audience who imagines that she'll never get a "chance" this great again. Plus, all other things aside, she's incredibly rude to Karl by just ditching him.

Daniel, Sam, Joanna and Carol: The dad, the step-son, the singer and Claudia Schiffer.

No real fat-shaming to be found here, as far as I remember. Claudia Schiffer seems to be presented as some kind of gorgeous prize at the last second to the grieving widower, but it doesn't feel terribly problematic. Carry on.

Edited to add: Actually, let's not. This is weeks after his wife's funeral. And, again, Schiffer is presented as both a "joke" and a prize, a joke in the sense that he found someone who looks just like his dream girl (I guess his dead wife didn't fit that bill) and that she's his prize for having to deal with the death of said wife. Some people have talked about the step-son's story being creepy, but I think more than that is the very weird attitude toward grieving. The step-son seems mostly unaffected and says that he's not so much bothered by mom's death as the fact that the cute girl at school doesn't like him. Maybe this is misplaced grief, or a way to distract himself, but I do feel bad for poor old dead Mom even if she did jokingly "sanction" it.

And there we have it. I'm not quite sure why Curtis seems to be obsessed with fat jokes in this movie, but at the end of the day it does make it hard to kick back and enjoy what is supposed to be a sweet Christmas film when its central message seems to be that love is reserved for ultra-beautiful and thin women, and everybody else better settle in for a super depressing life.