I went into The Night Before expecting to hate it, and ended up loving it (mostly). One of its most refreshing elements, especially for a movie that’s being marketed as, and mostly is, sort of a bros comedy, is that it treats its female characters like actual people. Add in the fact that it’s also a Christmas comedy, and its adult-like depiction of relationship dynamics seems damn-near revolutionary.
I’d been dreading seeing it, at least partly because it was a Christmas comedy. I have a theory that the types of movies we normally have foisted on us during the Christmas season can at least partly be explained by Christmas itself. Businesses openly exploit a Christian holiday (which itself openly co-opted a pagan festival), in order to sell us stuff, and because most of us enjoy presents, time off, feasting and family, we mostly pretend to go along with all the bullsh*t sloganeering. We’ve been effectively conditioned to suppress our gag reflexes on Christmas, and filmmakers know they can force feed us manipulative cheese we wouldn’t normally get within 10 feet of. It’s not outdated garbage, it’s tradition! Classic rebrand dodge.
Case in point: Love Actually, an inexplicably beloved Christmas movie whose badness is eclipsed only by its capacity to inspire worse movies (New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, probably the upcoming Mother’s Day — they don’t even bother with titles anymore, they just name them after the release date). One of the reasons Love Actually is so bad, aside from the fact that it’s the tonal equivalent of an anchovy breakfast stew, is that virtually every one of its vignettes involves some lurky, lovesick male proclaiming his previously un-voiced attraction through some over-the-top gesture of public embarrassment — say, showing up at her house with hired carolers and a pile of notecards, bringing her restaurant to a grinding halt, chasing her through the airport and gallantly getting arrested, giving a bizarre political speech severing your country’s ties with the U.S., etc. At which point, that character “wins” love like it’s a carnival prize. It’s all about some grand, obnoxious gesture brief enough to fit in a YouTube pre-roll ad. Love Actually is like a diamond commercial disguised as a movie.
And to top it all off, they then had the balls to call it “Love Actually,” which sounds like something a Reddit commenter might would say while pushing his glasses up his nose and tipping his fedora. “Love, Actually, m’Lady.”
Phew. Anyway, my point is, Love Actually is emblematic of the kind of hollow, slogan-based sentimentality you usually find in Christmas movies. [Spoilers for The Night Before to follow.]