Love Actually

Rating:

Great Cast, Cute Story

Main Cast: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightly

Director: Richard Curtis

Okay, some things just need to be said. And someone has to say them. I nominate me. So here’s the thing. Love Actually is just a really stupid, lame, ridiculous movie title. It matters not one bit whether the movie is horrible or brilliant, the title just doesn’t roll off the tongue. There, I got that out of the way, and I feel much better. But really, with all the money it undoubtedly took to make this film, all the stars taking part in it, all the complicated plot work, and they couldn’t think of anything else to call it? It’s like going to the trouble of putting together Bouillabaisse and calling it “Soup, sort of”. Okay, now I feel better. But I make no promises that there will be no further mini rants related to this topic later on. Now, back to the matter at hand. Love Actually is one of those things that just reached out and struck the girly recesses of my cold, jaded heart – and managed to do so through television ads. I need my chick flick fix now and again, and Hugh Grant usually does the trick. Add in a big, giant cast and I’m girly giddy.

Love Actually is all about love. This must come as a tremendous shock. Not only is it about love, it’s about holiday love. And all kinds of love. It’s the Whitman Sampler of love. A little taste of all different types of love stories, but not enough of any one thing to make you hurl. There are nine primary love stories going on here at once. They are all connected in some way, but those connections are really just there to be clever and try to tie these stories together, they don’t actually matter very much. I’ll give you a very brief rundown on what we have going on in the love department. Take a big breath now; this is one heaping helping of love.

We have the new Prime Minister of Great Britain (Hugh Grant) falling for his secretary (or something) Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is a washed up rock singer trying to make a comeback by turning his big hit love song into a Christmas song. Jamie (Colin Firth) has retreated to France to write his novel after being jilted, and hired to keep house for him is non-English speaker Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). Daniel (Liam Neeson) is the recently widowed stepfather of Sam (Thomas Sangster) who is in love for the first time. Karen (Emma Thompson) is the wife of Harry (Alan Rickman) who is perilously close to having an affair with his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). Sarah (Laura Linney) has been in love with co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) for over two years, yet has done nothing about it. John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are stand-ins getting to know one another on a movie set (and perhaps a porn movie set at that). Peter (Chiwetel Ejifor) and Juliet (Kiera Knightly) are newlyweds; Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is Peter’s best friend with a chilly attitude toward Juliet. Colin (Kris Marshall) is a waiter who is absolutely sure that his ticket to a bounty of women lies in Wisconsin, where apparently the women will notice that he’s English and fall in love with him, despite the fact that he’s disgusting.

Whew. There you have our love line up. The film jumps around from story to story as each of these mini-plots plays out. Everyone here is looking to find love, keep love, make love. And each looks at the subject from a slightly different point of view. From the first love of a young boy to the endangered love of grown adults who should know better but very seldom do. There are lots of coincidences, a slightly magical Rowan Atkinson pulling strings here and there, and loads of tired story lines about how love does and does not work. But somehow, the tired stories don’t really matter. Yes, we’ve seen the man in power trying to date someone (The American President), the man risking everything for a pretty piece of fluff on the make (insert name of any one of the ten thousand movies with this plot line here), lonely hearts looking for someone to fill that empty place in their lives (insert names of twenty thousand movies using this plot here). But here it isn’t about any single one of these loves, it’s about all of them, and how they’re everywhere. Using Heathrow airport as an example of somewhere that you see love every day, in every possible arrangement, the movie is far more about the idea of love than about any one instance of this most wonderful and horrible emotion.

For the first half of the film, the constant shifting from one scenario to the next is distracting. After a bit, you get used to the structure of the film, know who is who and who’s up to what, and have a better feeling for what the movie is trying to do. It isn’t trying to tell you all of these stories; it’s trying to tell you how they are all really one story, the story of love. This particular story simply has many forms. Some happy, some sad, some funny, some tragic. All really about the same thing. And as sappy as that all is, the movie is fun and touching, if not especially deep and moving. Keep in mind that this is very much light holiday fare. There will be no grand messages or great payoffs. But there will be cute moments of Hugh Grant dancing through the Prime Minister’s residence to the sounds of the Pointer Sisters. There will be Colin Firth playing Albert Brooks as he fumbles through a language barrier. There will be Liam Neeson who is sweeter in his grief than most of us are, well, ever. There will be Emma Thompson who proves that a part does not have to be big for her to shine through every moment. And there will be plenty of witty repartee.

A couple of the more minor plot lines could easily have been eliminated here, however, giving more time to the others and lessening the hop-skip-jump of the film as a whole. The stories of Colin and his trip to Wisconsin, John and Judy the stand-ins, and even Peter and Juliet the newlyweds could have been done away with completely. Slightly fewer love lessons would be welcome in the grand scheme of the overall movie. Basically, writer/director Richard Curtis does try to cram just a bit too much into a two-hour film. It would be nice to have a few more scenes of Grant, Thompson, Neeson, et. al. instead of those three stories which are both less interesting and less complete than the others.

The success of Love Actually rests entirely on the audience suspending disbelief and just enjoying a couple of hours of silly romance. The score filled with instantly recognizable pop songs adds a bit of flavor to the already light touch, keeping things fun and moving the film along at a brisk pace. The performances are for the most part solid, with a few coming out a couple notches up into the “delightful” zone. Hugh Grant parlays his trademark fumbling banter into a sweet, if terribly unbelievable, Prime Minister. Emma Thompson gives the film some of its only weight as a wife whose marriage is threatened. Alan Rickman is good, but the character he plays is not nearly as fun as the villains we’re used to seeing. Laura Linney gives perhaps the films finest performance as the shy and complicated woman carrying a torch upon which she cannot act. Much of the rest of the cast is eye candy – wonderful eye candy. A movie about love and romance can’t really go wrong by filling out its cast with exceptionally attractive men and women. The only real slip in the acting comes from Keira Knightly as the newlywed Juliet. She’s stiff and wooden, even for eye candy.

Love Actually is a fun, light romantic comedy. With a stupid name, but still. I doubt this one is going to go down as a holiday classic, but as these things go, it swings a slightly different light on the traditional love story. Be aware that this is very much a film targeted toward women (making the fair amount of female nudity a wee bit puzzling), and as such, chick flick haters beware. Anyone else in the mood for a few laughs and a little romance to pass the time this season won’t be disappointed in Love Actually. Except maybe in the title.

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