I’ve started watching “Parenthood” on Netflix. I’m still on the first season, but I’m already pretty engrossed. I recently watched an episode wherein Haddie Braverman has her first argument with her boyfriend, over the movie “Love Actually”; Haddie thinks the movie is romantic, while her boyfriend thinks it should have been called “Lame Actually”.
And I never thought I’d say this, but I kind of have to agree with the boyfriend.
“Love Actually” has been part of my Christmas movie-watching tradition since 2004, and even though I’ve watched it annually for 10 years running, I still get wrapped up in the storylines – Jojen Reed’s first love, Colin Firth’s horrible Portuguese, the extraordinarily touching unrequited love of that guy who’s now on “The Walking Dead”. But, and especially recently, I couldn’t help noticing how the storylines are distinctly not feminist. Young Jojen longs for a girl who, aside from her spectacular rendition of “All I Want For Christmas”, has one word in the entire movie (“Hi”). Colin Firth’s Portuguese cleaning lady strips down to her skivvies while the creepy male-gaze camera scans her from head to toe; meanwhile, Firth tumbles into the lake almost fully dressed. Keira Knightley as the object of the unrequited love is idolized, pedestaled.
There are two stories that actually focus on women. Emma Thompson portrays a stay-at-home mother, whose husband cheats on her with his secretary. And Laura Linney finally gets to get it on with the object of her desire – only to have to sacrifice that pleasure for the sake of her mentally ill brother. Neither of these women are entirely happy at the end of the film.
I suppose you could argue that these men’s happinesses depend upon the love of the women they obsess over. But that’s a demeaning argument, for both women and men. The majority of the female roles in the film are as passive objects, not fully realized characters. And the men are kind of… creepy. I used to agree with Haddie Braverman – I once thought they were romantic. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am that objectifying women is romance at it’s finest.
I still enjoy the movie, especially the opening and ending scenes at the Heathrow Airport. But I think it’ll be phased out of the Christmas movies tradition for something more truly romantic.