Love Actually
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.

With Love 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 his face.

Written and
Directed by:

Richard Curtis

Starring:
Bill Nighy
Gregor Fisher
Rory MacGregor
Colin Firth
Sienna Guillory
Liam Neeson
Emma Thompson
Lulu Popplewell
Kris Marshall
Heike Makatsch
Martin Freeman
Joanna Page
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Andrew Lincoln
Keira Knightley

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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