remember 2003?

Hated It, Actually: What Critics Thought of Love Actually in 2003

It might be hard to recall, but the film that has now become a beloved holiday classic was one that initially received a flurry of mixed reviews when it was released a decade ago. “The worst Christmas movie ever,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon, and she wasn’t the only one who wasn’t feeling the holiday spirit. In honor of its anniversary, here are some of the not-so-favorable reviews.

Bill Nighy was the best part.
“Most hilariously of all, Bill Nighy salts up the Christmas-eve-countdown scenarios as a spent, self-loathing rock star making a comeback with a seasonal revamp of his old hit, and his blisteringly honest media blitz stands as the film’s only, badly needed chord of cynicism.”  —Michael Atkinson, Village Voice

“It helps that the great Bill Nighy nails every comic line as an aging rocker who claims Britney Spears was a lousy lay. Nighy’s rocker refers to the old song he’s recycled into a Christmas chart-topper as ‘solid-gold shit.’ If only Curtis’ ear had stayed that acute. He ladles sugar over the eager-to-please Love Actually to make it go down easy, forgetting that sometimes it just makes you gag.”  —Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

Otherwise, there are way too many famous people in it.
“Have we mentioned the new bride (Keira Knightley) and her husband’s lovesick best man? Or the two stand-ins on the set of a pornographic movie? Or the unappealing cater-waiter who finds passion and romance in Milwaukee in the dead of winter? Or the aging rock star played by Bill Nighy? Or the clerk played by Rowan Atkinson? Would you believe Billy Bob Thornton as the president? Denise Richards for a cameo, anyone? Claudia Schiffer to block?” —Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

(But not enough Hugh Grant.)
“Curtis’ patented ace, Hugh Grant, elevates Love Actually every time he’s onscreen, which is not often enough in this overcrowded ensemble piece. As the bachelor prime minister, Grant further hones his impeccable comic timing and outshines a star-laden cast that includes Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. Much the way George Clooney has, Grant has matured into a bona fide movie idol before our eyes. The fluttery fop of 1994’s Four Weddings has become a commanding but still self-effacing presence able to draw laughs with the slightest double take. Or in this case, shake of his tush.” —Carla Meyer, SF Chronicle

That doesn’t matter, because it’s totally sexist.
“If you were an alien watching Love, Actually, you would come to the conclusion that what human British men really, really want are hot chicks who fetch them tea, put up with their dalliances, and don’t speak English.”  —Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon

And so syrupy.
“The film’s surplus of saccharine, however, will probably give pause to theater owners. After all, why would anyone watching this movie bother going to the concession stand for sweets?”  —Peter Rainer, New York 

But it’s so unrealistic, love-wise.
Love Actually pioneers an alternative approach, the revolutionary idea that there really are no obstacles: The primary hindrance to romantic fulfillment is merely the fear of declaring one’s love. As soon as the characters in the film find the courage to say “I love you,” their romantic journeys are essentially over and they go straight to the happily-ever-afters. The idea that there could be any consequences or complications associated with, say, the prime minister of England shacking up with a domestic staffer half his age, or with a cosmopolitan English writer wedding a provincial Portuguese domestic with whom he has not shared a word of common language are of no concern to Love Actually. The word is the deed: By speaking love, the characters realize it.” —Christopher Orr, Atlantic

And not even as good as Richard Curtis’s other stuff!
“As he proved in his scripts for Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), and Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), Curtis is happiest in a universe of sudden extroverts: of men and women who blurt out how they really feel, then freeze in mortification, then stammer on, cursing themselves when it’s over for being such asses. Then they go out and make still more embarrassing declarations—which is why we love them, especially when it’s all in the name of love.” —David Edelstein, Slate

Okay, we all agree that it’s shameless, but it works.
“But Curtis gets greedy in his directorial debut: Love Actually shamelessly compresses eight or nine sure-fire hits into one booming ode to amour, and double-shamelessly sets the whole thing at Christmas. On bended knee, offering two dozen red roses, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, and a moonlit carriage ride around Central Park, Curtis makes such a naked, desperate appeal for affection that it’s hard not to warm to the gesture.” —Scott Tobias, A.V. Club

What Did Critics Think of Love Actually in 2003?