By Ellie Brown, News Subeditor
Tired of binging Love, Actually (2003) for the umpteenth time this christmas? Or just looking for some festive romance to warm you up in chilly times? Here are some alternative winter romcoms if you can’t face Billy Mack all over again...
The results are in. According to a survey conducted by Radiotimes,the nation’s favourite Christmas film is Love, Actually. Putting aside questions of sample size and reliability, this result is, in my view, a travesty.
This is because Richard Curtis’s romcom, though intended as a celebration of love and togetherness, does not make me feel much at all. Well, apart from admiration of Emma Thompson’s acting talent, and a vague sense of annoyance at some of the storylines.
Perhaps there are just too many stories in the film for them to be developed properly, but I don’t get invested in the characters, and the humour is too safe and predictable for it to reward further rewatches.
In fairness, Love, Actually is an easy and comforting watch. I can see why it’s popular at Christmas time especially, when everyone is recovering from the stress and strain of the year and wants something vaguely uplifting and festive to doze off on the couch to. And I accept that viewing it can be fun when you’re with friends who can laugh/shout at the TV alongside you, especially after a few glasses of mulled wine.
The humour is too safe and predictable for it to reward further rewatches
However, as a fan of winter rom-coms, I cannot stand by and let the crowning of Love, Actually go unchallenged. Here are four rom-coms that I think are better than Curtis’s populist offering. The jokes are sharper, the messages more insightful, and the romances more grown-up and insightful. For extra helpfulness, I have ranked them based on greatness:
1. The Holiday (2006)
The epitome of a certain kind of female fantasy, The Holiday centers on two women who are unlucky in love and miserable despite their high-flying careers and enormous houses. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz are our protagonists who swap houses and countries as Christmas approaches, finding romance in a plot twist that surprises absolutely no-one – though Winslet gets the short end of the stick, being paired off with Jack Black while Diaz gets to snog Jude Law.
There is a surprising amount of depth and emotional weight to the movies’ characters, and the subplot with Arthur, a retired movie writer Kate Winslet’s character befriends, gets better every time I watch it – plus it features enough Christmas songs and snow to please any fan of the festive season.
2. Scrooged (1988)
The first of two films on this list that feature comic genius and all-around cool guy Bill Murray, Scrooged is a modern reworking of the classic Dickens tale 'A Christmas Carol'. Set in the cut-throat 1980s TV industry, Murray’s character is comically awful to his team and his greed has lost him the love of his life, though a set of ghosts soon show him the error of his ways.
Alfre Woodard is memorable as Murray’s character’s assistant whose life is ruined by his unthinking actions, and Karen Allen, as his long-lost love, is convincing enough to make the rekindled romance between their characters believable. As with Dickens’ story, the cynicism at the beginning nicely balances out the sentimentality of the ending, and Murray carries the film through to its heart-warming conclusion. However it’s not quite as original and funny as Murray’s best film though, which I will come to later.
3. When Harry Met Sally…(1989)
You know a movie is good when two of its scenes become reference points in popular culture. Billy Crystal’s classic New Year’s Eve speech and Meg Ryan’s ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ diner scene are known worldwide, but tragically these aren’t even the best parts of the film. Carrie Fisher is iconic as Marie, the best friend everyone wishes they had; Crystal consistently brings laughs in his deadpan performance as lovable jerk Harry, and he has excellent chemistry with Ryan’s neurotic yet ditzy Sally.
Re-watching When Harry Met Sally and realizing all of Billy Crystals fits look like every Insta girl right now pic.twitter.com/GFLS8qRh8L— Josselyn Berry (@joss_berry) December 5, 2019
I call this a festive film as many key scenes happen around Christmas and New Year’s Eve – including the famous declaration of love – but its scenes of autumn in New York are just as breathtaking. It’s not quite as sophisticated as the top film on my list, but the tale of two best friends getting together is an entertaining, timeless classic. Oh, and the soundtrack’s brilliant too.
The tale of two best friends getting together is an entertaining, timeless classic
4. Groundhog Day (1993)
To be fair, including this is cheating a bit. Yes, it’s set during a holiday – the eponymous Groundhog Day – and at winter time, but being in February and containing no references to Christmas or New Year it kind of misses the festive boat. But to me it is the best winter rom-com for Bill Murray’s performance as Scrooge-like main character Phil and the organic, convincing story of his character’s shifting perspective on life.
The change in Phil comes about not because of an arbitrary holiday, and it takes more than an evening for him to see the error of his ways and want to change. Yes, there is some cosmic prompting, but falling in love with and woo-ing of his love interest, Rita, and gradual realisation that the town of Punxsutawney where the film is set is not actually as awful as he thinks, is as endearing and realistic as it is funny.
It is the best winter rom-com for Bill Murray’s performance as Scrooge-like main character Phil and the organic, convincing story of his character’s shifting perspective on life
Disclaimer: this is entirely my opinion and you are welcome to ignore me completely and enjoy Love, Actually if you wish. Merry Christmas!
Do you have any other suggestions for an alternative to a very-Curtis-Christmas? Let us know!