In Love Actually/Hate Actually, Great Boos Up discusses each story in the movie and puts it on trial in an attempt to grapple with his enjoyment of the movie versus his own acknowledgement of its problems.
The Defendants: David and Natalie
Which Story Is This? The newly elected Prime Minister David1 (Hugh Grant) falls in love with his catering manager, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). A visit from the lecherous US President (Billy Bob Thornton) creates a sticky situation that results in David reassigning Natalie, but the two are eventually able to express their true feelings at a school Christmas pageant.
Problematic Content: 3/5. I mean, right off the bat, you’ve got a politician with the hots for a staffer working for him, and that’s an icky power dynamic for a romance, especially from our current perspective in the horrifying future world of 2018.
The other thing is, for some reason, everyone in this story is keen to suggest that Natalie is overweight/”fat”/”chubby.” This is given as the reason why Natalie’s boyfriend broke up with her, her dad calls her “Plumpie,” and a member of David’s staff refers to her as having “a sizeable ass” and “huge thighs.” Several of the jokes are little more than somebody calling Natalie fat and David going, “Buh-WHUUUU?” (But Britishly.)
Character Issues: 2/5. This is one of the stories that probably could have been a whole movie in itself, and the characters are pretty thin for it. David is Hugh Grant’s “Oh dear, I’m afraid I’m being subjected to another embarrassment!” rom-com persona put into a position of authority. Natalie is sweet and has a tendency to use salty language. That’s about it, and they have a meet-cute and David is instantly smitten with her, but we’re not totally shown what it is that Natalie sees in David. (“It’s not clear that the woman has an inner life” is a critique we’ll be revisiting in a couple of these stories.)
It also used to seem more implausible to me that someone who so regularly puts his foot in his mouth would be elected to the highest office of his country, but time makes fools of us all.
Frustrating Execution: 3/5. I keep going back to the fat jokes and David’s befuddlement over them. I mean, it’s enough of a romantic complication for this story to grapple with, “Is it appropriate for me, the Prime Minister, to date a member of my staff?” But there is this whole weird subconflict where David seems to be going, “Wait, is she fat?” I honestly cannot tell, gang, what the point of this throughline is supposed to be. Is the joke that it’s ridiculous that this is what passes for fat according to the shockingly exacting standards of the prime minister’s staff? Is the joke that she is supposed to be fat and David is blinded by love? Is it just so that David can come off as Good Guy Prime Minister?
Comedy and Charm: 5/5. This is one of the two funniest stories in the movie, and it’s because Hugh Grant is a damn treasure of a comic actor. Do we all agree here? Grant gets a lot of shade for the “charmingly befuddled bachelor” roles he broke out with, and later he was able to stretch his legs and finding a second persona as a bit of a cad in stuff like About a Boy and Bridget Jones’ Diary. But the thing is, he’s so good at being a charmingly befuddled bachelor, with the added twist here that instead of being Richard Curtis’ notion of the English everyman, he is in fact the most powerful man in Britain.
There is a precise sound that he makes when he says, “Oooo would we call her chubby?” that just kills me (despite being in service of my main problem with the story). There’s the way he immediately drops dancing and pushes forward with official business the instant he’s caught. I could watch a whole movie about David the Wacky P.M.
Drama and Poignancy: 2/5. It’s mostly fluffy rom-com business, but the scene where he stands up to the Evil American President and delivers a stirring speech about the greatness of Britain was a powerful moment for the country at the time. For you see, my friends, in a bit of subtle political commentary you may have missed, the president in this movie was intended to partially stand in for the actual U.S. president at the time, a man history tells us was called GEORGE “W.” BUSH.
Does It Make You Believe in the Power of Love? 3/5. It’s not an epic whirlwind romance. David is charming. Natalie is charming. It’s a romantic comedy and you want to see them get together, and they do. That’s enough.
It is perhaps not so great that the thing that emboldens David to speak his mind is seeing Natalie get sexually harassed, though.
ACQUITTED. Despite problematic elements throughout, it’s a cute rom-com sequence buoyed by Hugh Grant’s antics.