Time has not been kind to Love Actually. Since its 2003 release, popular opinion around it has morphed from "Aw, what a charming compilation of Christmas-centric love stories!" to "What the hell, most of these couplings are the result of borderline stalking and/or deeply problematic employee-employer relationships." Couples in the film don’t fall in love so much as have one party relentlessly pursue the other until the latter is nudged into some sort of public reception of emotion. I have called it a dystopian horror flick in the past. I stand by this.
If you’ve sharpened a certain distaste for the saccharine obliviousness of the original, Love Actually’s where-are-they-now sequel, Red Nose Day Actually — released in the U.K. in March in honor of Red Nose Day, which you still cannot convince me is a real thing, and in the good old United States of America on Thursday night on NBC — is happy to give you a dose of schadenfreude, as well as maybe, just maybe, some much-delayed self-awareness.
Hugh Grant’s character, David, we learn, is once again prime minister. This is strangely fitting in the Brexit era, given that his initial P.M. stint consisted of using a press conference to nuke the very idea of Great Britain engaging in any kind of partnership with a foreign nation-state. That stance was less an attempt to institute almost certainly doomed national isolationism, crater the British and European economies, and further hasten post-Empire irrelevance than it was his way of impressing an aide he was trying to sleep with, but hey — Red Nose Day Actually informs us that he is still sleeping with her 13 years on, so bang-up job all around, Hugh. Anyway, here he is dancing to "Hotline Bling":
Not vindictive enough? A little too fan-service-y? Making you wonder, jeez, what happened to Hugh Grant? OK, here he is falling down the stairs of 10 Downing Street:
But Grant’s prime minister doesn’t usually top the list of would-be sweethearts people remember from Love Actually: That honor goes to thinly disguised serial killer Mark (Andrew Lincoln). Mark shows back up with a new batch of creepy placards for Juliet (Keira Knightley); I guess she must have gotten a restraining order in the intervening years, considering that she hasn’t "mysteriously" disappeared. We learn that Mark hasn’t been near her in more than a decade, which also suggests that Juliet’s husband (Chiwetel Ejiofor) finally figured out that his best friend was in fact a lecherous weirdo who had been using their friendship chiefly as a means of stalking his wife. Good news for everybody, I suppose.
Then we have the best moment of the entire sequel:
Did you catch it? Let’s look again:
That’s Lúcia Moniz’s Aurelia, the Portuguese-speaking/extremely non-English-speaking housekeeper that Colin Firth’s English-speaking/extremely non-Portuguese-speaking Jamie decided he wanted to bone after seeing her — warning, English terminology here — in her knickers. In the original film, Jamie proposed to Aurelia in front of her family after learning enough Portuguese to haltingly do so. This interaction — "I’ve come here with a view to asking you to marriage me," in the film’s translation — constituted their most extensive interaction by far; prior to that, it was Jamie’s pond-side erection and whatever happened after on the sheets that Aurelia was then tasked with cleaning.
I predicted that the couple wed and immediately divorced, after learning enough of each other’s languages to discover that they shared nothing in common. This is not the case. We find out that Jamie and Aurelia are still married and raising three bilingual children. We also discover that while Aurelia now speaks flawless English, Jamie hasn’t bothered to improve upon his Portuguese in the least; as Aurelia makes a grand declaration about love and happiness, Jamie thinks she’s talking about roasted potatoes.
Which brings us back to the clip above: After instructing their brood to use only Portuguese on the drive home — "We’re still teaching Dad" — Aurelia tries again: Estou grávida outra vez. I’m pregnant again. Jamie bursts out laughing and exclaims, "That’s great!" before asking if they "can have rice with it," as he’s getting tired of stir-fry. In the final seconds of the scene, Aurelia realizes her husband can’t comprehend her at this pivotal juncture, and turns to look out the window, disappointed. That is to say, in the sequel to Love Actually, a movie in which actual engagement with and knowledge of prospective partners is given little importance compared with such categories as "Is he/she hot?" and "Would I prefer to be having sex with that person right now instead of fulfilling my prime-ministerial/best-friend/not-worthlessly-creepy-member-of-society duties?," here we have a failure to communicate creating a fissure in a relationship. (It’s a failure to even try to communicate, with Jamie having obtained the requisite amount of Portuguese to procreate at least three times and apparently deciding that was plenty.) Somewhere in these critical post-2003 years, someone in the Love Actually–verse decided that communication and respect might, in fact, be important facets of a given coupling.
But Love Actually still can’t help itself. We also catch up with Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who over the past 13 years has transformed from chubby-cheeked, sparkly-eyed preteen to a gangly 20-something with a sparse, ill-advised mustache. He surprises his stepfather, a sullen, Thames-staring Daniel (Liam Neeson), with a list of updates that quickly cascades from "Surprise, I’m in London!" to "Hey, remember that random girl I had a crush on when I was 12 and with whom I’ve had no contact since?" to "WE’RE GETTING MARRIED AND SHE’S RIGHT HERE AND SHE ACTUALLY WAS THE ONE WHO PROPOSED BECAUSE IT’S 2017, BABY!" While it’s not clear in the sequel how long they’ve been back in touch, or how many words they’ve exchanged beyond "all I want for Christmas is you," the heavy implication is not many. They just wanna bang, Mr. Neeson — what could possibly go wrong?
As with most of the couples in Love Actually, I’m sure they’ll be very happy.