Why this Love Actually scene is really the most heartbreaking

There is no shortage of heartbreak in Richard Curtis’ iconic Love Actually. The movie is undeniably Christmassy in a distinctive British way, yet it manages to recast the holiday season not just as a time of Christmas cookies and hot cocoa, but also a time for heartache. The movie is chock-full of “wait, what?” moments that span rejection, unrequited love, infidelity, and even death. 

Yes, heartbreak is all around and hides in every corner. Andrew Lincoln (Mark) stands before Keira Knightly (Juliet) in the cold to confess his unrequited love for her in a series of moving (some say creepy) handwritten cue cards. Laura Linney (Sarah) has the hots for Rodrigo Santoro (Karl) for the two years, seven months, three days, and hour and 30 minutes she’s known him, and when they finally get to be alone, Sarah gets a call from her brother who needs her right now. Colin Firth (Jamie) comes home from a funeral expecting to see his sick wife recuperating, only to find her in bed with his brother. And then there’s the scene where Emma Thompson (Karen) unwraps her Christmas present to find not the gold necklace she thought she was getting from her husband, but a Joni Mitchell CD instead (via Cosmopolitan). Throughout the movie, we also catch glimpses of the dysfunctional relationship between aging rocker Billy Mack and his manager, which masquerades as a quintessentially British bromance.

What's the deal with Billy Mack?

As an aging rockstar relic, Billy Mack is as un-PC as anyone can get. He is rude on radio, says his comeback record sucks, and admits he’s trying to revive his career which was derailed because of a heroin addiction (via YouTube). Mack is also unbelievably rude to his loyal manager Joe (played by Gregor Fisher), the man responsible for helping him get his “festering turd of a record” to the top of the charts, and who Mack repeatedly refers to as his “fat manager.” 

Forget bromance — Mack and Joe’s relationship carries all the signposts of a classic toxic relationship, with Mack’s lack of consideration of Joe’s efforts, feelings, or loyalty, and Joe’s visible discomfort and unease over Mack’s outlandish behavior. Still, he sticks with his friend and client.

Why the Billy Mack and Joe storyline is so tragic

Billy Mack appears to redeem himself when his record does make it to number one — he makes a beeline for Elton John’s party, leaving Joe in his apartment, alone during what should have been the happiest day of the year. Mack finally makes right by abandoning Elton’s party to spend Christmas Eve with Joe, appearing at his manager’s apartment saying, “…it might be that the people I love is, in fact, you… It’s a terrible, terrible mistake, Chubs, but you turn out to be the f****** love of my life. And to be honest, despite all my complaining, we have had a wonderful life.” 

Joe is emotional, clearly happy to finally get some of the recognition he deserves, and what should have been a touching moment actually leaves you heartbroken for Mack’s manager, who obviously isn’t getting what he wants or needs out of this so-called bromance.

Cut to one month later, and we see Billy Mack with his latest bombshell at Heathrow Airport’s arrivals hall. After the success of the album, we’d love to think Joe would be at the airport waiting for Billy with his own arm candy, but instead he’s alone. As The Back Seat Driver Reviews points out, Billy is living the high life, while nothing changes for Joe, still flying solo and forgotten once again by Mack.

While love might be all around, we can’t help but wonder why Joe needs to settle for living life second-hand, and why loyalty gets no reward.

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