Love Actually (2003) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 135 min.

Cast: Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Thomas Sangster, Andrew Lincoln, Heike Makatsch, Lucia Moniz, Keira Knightly, Gregor Fisher, Billy Bob Thornton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rowan Atkinson 
Richard Curtis
Screenplay: Richard Curtis
Review published November 8, 2003

Richard Curtis, writer of the successful romantic comedies, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, takes the director's chair for the first time with impressive results.  After watching many other directors do justice to his smart and funny screenplays, it would seem Curtis has learned the formula for success well.  Introduce your characters, put them in awkward and embarrassing situations, add a little drama, throw in a chase scene at the end, then a proposal, and there you have a crowd-pleasing movie.  It might sound like more wholly predictable fare (and it is), but it still works somehow.

It's near impossible to write a plot for a film with this many characters and intersecting storylines, without droning on at length, so I'm just going to write an overview.  Essentially, it is approaching Christmas in England, in a time when people think about love, family and friendship.  Love Actually explores many different types of love...from lifelong to passing fancy...from marriage to puppy love.  The message of the film is that everywhere you look, there is love, and even those who think they are unloved and alone will find that it has been there all along.  From an 11-year-old boy to the Prime Minister of England, everyone needs and wants love.

Although on the whole I am giving Love Actually a positive review, there is a part of me that is just a little disappointed, because with a few tweaks here and there, Curtis could have turned a good movie into a great movie.  The ensemble cast is impressive, and each perform quite well in fleshing out their small roles into something more substantial.  Yet, some of the stories could have used a little more screen time, while others should have been cut out altogether.  There is a storyline involving a young Brit who has trouble with women in England, but wants to travel to America, where his British accent is seen as a turn-on for some women.  It's a one-joke premise that continues far too long, and is so disingenuous in execution, it should never be seen in any other way than a dream sequence.  If I had my way, you'd never see this story, nor the one with the man disappointed about his friend's wedding partner, or the body double sequence where a man and woman simulate sex while falling in love in reality.

Yet, even with the storyline lulls, the fact that it jumps from story to story every few minutes keeps you from falling asleep, as your interest will pick right back up again once you see Hugh Grant (Two Weeks Notice, About a Boy) as the Prime Minister, Colin Firth (What a Girl Wants, Hope Springs) attempting to break through a language barrier, Liam Neeson (Gangs of New York, K-19) encouraging his young son to be a fool for love, or Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle, Underworld) chew up scenery with an outlandishly fiendish burnt-out rock star performance.  The stories involving Rickman's secretary making a play for him, and Laura Linney's unrequited love with an office worker spark some occasional interest, but in the end, feel somewhat inconsequential.

The irony of Love Actually, is that is is not about being in love, actually.  It's more about people who love being with other people, but most of these forms of love stem from infatuations, crushes, friendships, or just good old-fashioned lust.  But then, with so little time given to each character, I suppose there would be no way to convey genuinely heartfelt emotions in a substantial way.  Really, it's about the beginnings of love, or in some cases, realizing that some forms of love are greater than just the romantic love, and by the end of the film, it ties up in a satisfying way regardless of the lack of depth.

For any looking for a light-hearted, feel-good Christmas romantic comedy, Love Actually is an entertaining and rousing confection that goes down in a sweet, pleasing way.  With the multitudinous characters and situations, it's like getting a sampler box of chocolates, with some more to your liking than others.  If you can learn to savor the ones you like, and ignore the ones you don't, you'll definitely find enough here to satisfy your sweet-tooth cravings.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo