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: Billy Mack and Joe
Which Story Is This? Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is a washed-up rock star angling for a comeback with a crass Christmas single that he openly disdains. Joe (Gregor Fisher) is his long-suffering manager. Billy’s single makes the Christmas number one, but he leaves behind the celebratory party at Elton John’s to spend time with lonely Joe on Christmas because in the end, he realizes that Joe is the only one who’s stuck by him even during the low times.
Problematic Content: 2/5. Billy Mack is meant to be a dirty old man. He makes a joke on air claiming to have had sex with Britney Spears, who was “rubbish.” He shows his junk unasked to a talk show host. Dick-shaming a boy band. That sort of thing.
There is possibly a bit of “no homo!” to this storyline, particularly at the end when you’re assured Billy Mack’s comeback sees him apparently bedding various models, you know, just in case you thought he might not be straight.
Character Issues: 0/5. Not terribly deep characters, but they’re played well.
Frustrating Execution: 1/5. This is actually the perfect length, I think. This isn’t one of the stories where you wish, “Oh, I wish they had more time.” I mean, I could spend a whole ninety minutes with the character, but the point of the story they want to tell—a has-been crawls his way back to the top but realizes the value of his true friend—is well enough served at vignette length.
Maybe it feels a bit odd that an aging rocker trying to mount a comeback is portrayed in this story as somewhat notable. They call him “the bad granddad of rock ‘n’ roll” but like…the Stones are still out there, the Who, all those guys. I suppose if we knew a little more about his career it would bring it into clearer context—maybe he was a one-hit wonder and didn’t have the type of long-running career for which he’d attain the kind of “elder statesman” role where Rolling Stone checks in with him every few years?—but honestly I’m just overthinking this because I decided to write 700 words on a section of Love Actually.
Comedy and Charm: 5/5. The other big comedy highlight, along with the David/Natalie story. I want to write more about it, but it’s not something you can really analyze; Bill Nighy is terrific as this outsized personality, equal parts fearless and insecure, and none of the jokes are overly precious or strained. So feel free to quote your favorite bits in the comments. The “That’s right, Ant or Dec” line is a killer once it was explained to my Yankee ass.
Drama and Poignancy: 4/5. Yeah, I’m actually rating this the same as “Laura Linney’s chances at happiness are tragically crushed by familial obligations” because it’s a less showy kind of drama but drama no less, at the end. Nighy expresses his emotions for his friend in such a way that is all the more poignant because of how uncomfortable he is, and Fisher’s expression at receiving this unexpected gratitude after so many years just about chokes you up.
There’s lots of wonderful subtle touches. When Joe tells him, “It’s been an honor,” Billy Mack gives him a dubious look, wincing because maybe he wasn’t expecting (or feeling that he deserved) the expression to be reciprocated. The way Billy insists on the hug; they make it a joke that they feel compelled to give each other the “punch” but it feels very genuine for two men who aren’t used to sharing their feelings finally letting their guard down a bit and declaring that they honestly care for each other.
Does It Make You Believe in the Power of Love? 5/5. “You turn out to be the fucking love of my life,” I mean, that’s the most beautiful thing in the whole damn movie, I think.
ACQUITTED. This is the one story that I have almost no reservation in saying is terrific.