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Family Relations in “Love Actually” Movie


Love Actually is a popular motion picture watched by millions on Christmas Eve all around the world. The entire plot of the film is a compilation of short life stories that many viewers can easily relate to. Despite being labeled as overly melodramatic and, at times, boring by numerous critics, Love Actually presents the audience with a variety of critical social concepts in quite a sophisticated manner. It follows several storylines and shows the dynamics of personal and family connections between different people. This paper aims to examine relationship structures and their attributes that may be considered non-traditional within the current social context.

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Sam and Daniel

The concept of what a standard family should constitute has been gradually changing over the last decades. Same-sex families, cohabitation, blended households, voluntary childless couples become increasingly common in many societies. A traditional family with two parents of the opposite sex and their children born into a marriage is no longer the actual norm, nor is it perceived as such. On the contrary, single-family households become prevalent in numerous Western countries, since the current economic situation allows for the ability to support oneself and a child independently. However, when thinking about the traditional version of this new family type, most automatically consider it as consisting of a woman and her child or children. A man as the head of a one-parent household, raising children alone, is still a rare phenomenon. Love Actually in this sense went above and showed not only the dynamics of a single-parent family but also the specifics of the relationship between a father and a son.

The first acquaintance of the audience with Daniel, the father, is quite somber. After his wife’s death, Daniel is left alone to raise Sam, who is, as the viewers further find out, is not his biological son. Therefore, the storyline of Daniel and Sam is a crucial one as it serves as a basic representation of not only a single parenthood structure but a relation between a father and a stepson. Throughout the film, however, it is made clear that the notion of biological kinship between Daniel and Sam is not relevant. The level of openness of communication between the two and the respect towards each other are quite exemplary. These qualities are the main drivers that help Daniel and Sam move on with their lives after their wife and mother’s death.

Daniel is shown preoccupied with Sam’s wellbeing and attributes his reserved behavior to depression due to his mother’s passing. He is even speculating whether the boy takes drugs and consults with his sister. Thus, the solution to the problem is the simplest one most parents, and especially those raising children alone should adopt – conversation. Daniel has an honest talk with Sam and finds out that his stepson is actually in “agony” because he is in love (Curtis, 2003). The friendship between the two and the fact that Daniel does everything to encourage and treat Sam as an equal is probably too idealistic. Nevertheless, in reality, it should serve as a benchmark or the core of successful family relations.

As the film progresses, the dynamics of interaction between them change as well. The more open, trustworthy, and supportive Daniel is, the more confident and spirited Sam becomes. The film proves that it does not really matter if a relationship is romantic or familial. If people do not communicate, acknowledge personal boundaries, and encourage each other, such relation is bound to fail. Therefore, the connection between Sam and Daniel is not just a positive depiction of a single father raising his stepson, but a model for a successful family unit.

Sarah and Her Relationships

Another storyline that changes progressively during the film is that of Sarah and Karl. The two people are young, single, and attractive co-workers predestined to become involved romantically, given the film’s context. However, what initially is expected to grow into a dating story, turns out to be a portrayal of a serious family relationship between a sister and her mentally ill brother Michael. This type of family unit is not common, considering grown siblings usually have a household of their own, and their bond becomes less tight. In Sarah and her brother’s case, the situation is polar and complicated by the presence of mental illness. The dynamics of this relationship are built on selflessness, affection, and love. Sarah’s devotedness to Michael is particularly apparent when she chooses to answer his numerous phone calls in the middle of a long-awaited romantic encounter with Karl.

The fact that Sarah puts her family, represented by the mentally ill brother, first is the indication that the bond between them as siblings is more potent than her desire to connect romantically with a handsome co-worker. Conversely, examining the dynamics between Sarah and Karl, it is easy to see how family ties’ heavy presence easily destroys personal relationships. Sarah’s storyline’s primary purpose is to show that her selfless love for Michael overpowers her desires.

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Motion pictures, TV series, and books are often a great source of information on the development of personal relations in a continually changing society. Traditional family structures represented by two adults of the opposite sex and their children are not considered standard any longer. Even though there is no universal definition of an ideal family, relationships analyzed in this paper are not regarded as traditional. A single-parent household, represented by a father and a stepson, or a grown woman devoting herself entirely to a sick sibling, is far from being usual. However, a closer analysis shows that with all the non-traditional characteristics of such family units, they are still based on common rules of love, trust, commitment, and devotedness.


Curtis, R. (2003). Love actually [Film]. Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Working Title Films.

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