review by Dan
Lybarger, 7 November 2003
Screenwriter Richard Curtis has
given Hugh Grant some of his best roles in flicks like Four
Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget
Jones's Diary, but these movies also featured some juicy
supporting turns from performers like Rowan Atkinson, Kristen
Scott-Thomas and Rhys Ifans, whose screen time seemed unduly short.
At times a viewer wondered if Curtis had spent as much time fine
tuning the minor characters as he had the principals.
Actually, Curtis, making his directorial debut, declines to
center the film around anyone, and the results are generally
satisfying. Thereís a gushy, syrupy romanticism that runs
throughout the film, but Curtis manages to temper it with sharp
dialog and abundant laughter.
The film gets off to a rather
inauspicious start as Hugh Grant drones in a long pointless
voiceover that accompanies shots of people hugging at the airport.
Fortunately, the rest of this look at love and rejection over the
Christmas holiday quickly kicks into gear when we spot a recording
session where the long burned-out British pop star Billy Mack (Bill
Nighy) is trying to revive his career with a Yuletide reworking of "Love
Is All Around."
Billy clearly hates the gig and
resents the fact that his jingle is in competition with a boy
bandís carol for a national prize. Curiously, his obnoxious,
indifferent behavior during interviews actually makes the tune more
popular, aggravating Billyís malaise.
While all that is going on the
UKís new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is the only bachelor to take
the office in some time and has trouble focusing on a meeting with
the American President (youíll love who Curtis elected for the
Oval Office) because heís beginning to fancy a young, somewhat
insecure staffer (Martine McCutcheon).
Meanwhile, his sister Karen (Emma
Thompson) is beginning to think her husband (Alan Rickman) has been
straying with a flirtatious employee at his office. One of his
coworkers Sarah (Laura Linney) is finally getting the nerve to
pursue a fellow employee who has her pining, and Karenís
recently-widowed friend Daniel (Liam Neeson) tries to guide his
12-year-old son through his first big crush. Thereís also a
subplot involving a cuckolded writer (Colin Firth) and his simmering
crush he develops on his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) even
though neither speaks the otherís language.
The omnipresent Kiera Knightley
(and thatís a problem because?) even shows up as a bride whose
husbandís pal Mark (Andrew Lincoln) seems to have a fondness for
either her or her betrothed (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dirty
Pretty Things). Thereís even a sweet young couple who meet
over innocent conversation, while filming a porno.
This is actually a partial listing
of the plots and plotlets that run throughout Love
Actually. Towards the end this does get to be a bit of a problem
because some of the stories end up abruptly resolved or not at all.
Right when one situation becomes intriguing Curtis develops
Attention Deficit Disorder and shifts focus.
Fortunately, the cast and Curitsí
eye for absurdly comic situations wins out. Grantís droll
delivery, as usual, is a perfect vehicle for Curtisí wisecracks.
The standout of the bunch is Nighy, whose bitterness gives the film
a bite it desperately needs. Thereís something oddly appealing
about the way Billy Mack is so unrepentant about his sordid life ("Donít
buy drugs. Become a pop star, and theyíll give them to you for
free"). Itís a nice counter-balance to the rest of the film.
Curtis used to write for the
wonderfully cynical British TV shows Blackadder
and Mr. Bean (Atkinson has
an amusing cameo here), so itís nice to see that his recent
specialization in romance hasnít completely wiped the scowl off