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: Jamie and Aurelia
Which Story Is This? Jamie (Colin Firth) is a writer who retreats to a French cottage after discovering his girlfriend having an affair with his brother. His housekeeper is a Portuguese woman named Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who does not speak any English (and Jamie does not speak any Portuguese). Jamie and Aurelia become attracted to each other despite their inability to communicate, but Jamie’s working holiday eventually ends and he returns to Britain. There, he begins learning Portuguese, and eventually flies back to propose to Aurelia, who accepts and reveals that she’s also begun learning English.
Problematic Content: 5/5. So again, it’s a guy falling in love with a woman who is in his employ. I mean, romancing the housekeeper is a gross trope even without adding the guy literally having no concept of her personality due to being unable to communicate. She’s a sexy foreign lady who cleans my house and brings me food and she can’t talk to me! And Jamie really only starts to notice her (as she is originally presented as “mousy and plain” like a 90s teen movie where the girl wears glasses and overalls) after his manuscript is blown into the water and she strips down to her underwear to save it. She’s a sexy foreign lady who cleans my house and brings me food and she can’t talk to me and it turns out she has a small tattoo!
Also: more fat shaming! When Jamie tells Aurelia’s father that he’s come to marry his daughter, her heavier sister appears, and HA HA obviously Colin Firth doesn’t mean you! Her father calls this daughter “Miss Dunkin Donuts 2003,” which…look, Richard Curtis co-wrote Blackadder, much of which was a collection of inventive and devastating insults. What is this playground shit, Richard, you can do better than this, I’ve seen it.
For what it’s worth, Jamie calls himself a word that I believe is now auto-modded here.1
Character Issues: 2/5. Jamie is a straight-up sad sack, the kind of guy who says, “Alone again…naturally,” and means it sincerely. We have no idea what Aurelia sees in Jamie (my wife would say the fact that he is Colin Firth is enough), or really even he in her. When we read her subtitles, she mostly just seems to be low-key insulting him all the time. (Yes, yes, it is the flaws that so often endear us to each other, but even so.)
Frustrating Execution: 4/5. I think this is the story that most stretches the limits of the suspension of disbelief with which you walk into a romantic comedy. You’re prepared to accept people falling in love mostly just because they’re both attractive, and you’re prepared to accept the compressed timeframes in which the courtships take place thank you very much, Aristotle. But all the romance in here happens by fiat; there’s no time to see it develop even by most romcoms’ standards. They’re both in love just because they’ve been inhabiting the same space for awhile. Then he proposes even though, like, these two people don’t really actually even know each other! I would even buy in the romcom context that he learns Portuguese and then later comes back for another holiday to reconnect with her, but he is going right to, “Let’s spend the rest of our lives together.”
Comedy and Charm: 3/5. I like Colin Firth. In this movie he seems to be competing with Hugh Grant to see who can be the most repressed and perpetually embarrassed Englishman, and honestly, he holds his own. There are some good gags where Jamie and Aurelia can’t understand each other but happen to be talking about the same thing from different perspectives; I particularly like one where Aurelia suggests Jamie could give her 50% of the profits of his book for saving the manuscript, and he independently comes up with the same idea but lowballs her with a suggestion of just 5%. I chuckle but don’t laugh out loud at this one.
Drama and Poignancy: 1/5. Not a lot of drama here other than longing looks.
Does It Make You Believe in the Power of Love? 2/5. Jamie gathers a huge crowd on his way to Aurelia’s restaurant and the music swells, and his proposal actually is actually the climax of the whole movie. And it is sweeping, if you can get past the inherent problematic nature of it. Love can thrive even through communication barriers! But the whole thing really breaks my rom-com suspension of disbelief, and I’m mostly just thinking how long that relationship’s gonna plausibly last.
GUILTY. It’s cute enough in the moment, but I am uncomfortable with the very premise of this story.