While no one was looking -- but apparently everyone was watching -- someone went and declared Love Actually a holiday classic. And The Atlantic's Christopher Orr is having none of it. In an essay entitled "Love Actually Is the Least Romantic Film of All Time" -- take that, Schindler's List! -- he writes:
The fundamental problem with Love Actually is that it presents romance as either absurdly easy -- something that strikes you like a thunderclap and requires only a single grand gesture in order to be fulfilled -- or all but impossible. Notably absent is the idea that love might ever be worth a little sustained effort: some mutual exploration and discovery, a bit of care and nurture, maybe even the overcoming of an obstacle or two. Indeed, it’s hard to shake the sense that what is "classic" about Love Actually is not that it shows us anything about how people fall in love, but that it so conspicuously declines even to try.
Culture being what it is, the Internet greeted Orr's essay with polite disapproval and a willingness to consider contrary opinions such as this one: "Haha. Relax man. It's a movie. You really wrote like 2,000 words on Love Actually?"
Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams lent her voice to the chorus with "Love Actually: The Worst Christmas Movie Ever" -- sorry, The Santa Clause 3 -- which she called "one of cinema’s nastiest, most depressing commentaries ever on 'love,' wrapped up like a velvet box from goddamn Kay Jewelers." Orr's Atlantic colleague Emma Green fired back with "I Will Not Be Ashamed of Loving Love Actually," and ThinkProgress' Alyssa Rosenberg argued, Linda Richman-style, that the Christmas romance is neither a Christmas movie nor a romance. Then, Mother Jones' Ben Dreyfuss, who says he's seen the film "probably 40 times," wrote "Why Love Actually Matters," arguing that:
Love Actually is, in fact, less a film about love as it is a film about people who think they are in love. Almost all of the stories center around people who either early on, or before the film even begins, figure out they're nuts about someone and then spend the five weeks before Christmas wondering, "What do I do now?" It's a bit like Hamlet but with romantic gestures instead of, you know, death.
The Week's Emily Shire stepped back from the fray to wonder what all the fuss was about, concluding that people should maybe chill and just enjoy Colin Firth dripping wet. But Orr wasn't done, firing back at his critics with "Love Actually: Still Awful."
So now it's come to this: a debate on Huffpost Live, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern, pitting Orr against Dreyfuss in a battle to the death (at least, I think that's how these things go). So tune in and see who draws first blood.