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Love Actually (2003) Print E-mail
Friday, 07 November 2003
Just in time to get everybody in tune with the holiday spirit – the one that actually is about love, not loot – comes writer Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, “Love Actually.” The title is short for the opening observation that “love actually is all around,” despite popular opinion to the contrary, and Curtis makes a good case for it with whimsy, a true sense of romance, a great cast and dialogue that lives up to the past promise of his scripts for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill.”

Curtis gives us a contemporary London where everything is interconnected – part of the fun here is in discovering some of the less obvious links. The timeframe is the five weeks leading up to Christmas (with a brief epilogue). No sooner does the new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) take office than he finds himself attracted to Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). Karen (Emma Thompson) comforts her friend Daniel (Liam Neeson), who has just lost his wife and fears that he’ll fail his now-motherless 11-year-old stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster), who turns out to be hopelessly smitten with a girl at school. Karen’s husband Harry (Alan Rickman) is fending off the romantic interest of pretty underling Mia (Heike Makatsch), while trying to encourage employee Sarah (Laura Linney) to do something about her years-long crush on coworker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). Mark (Andrew Lincoln) goes all-out with a musical surprise for his best mate Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) at Peter’s wedding but is strangely cold to Peter’s bride Juliet (Keira Knightley). Writer Jamie (Colin Firth), suffering from a broken heart, retreats to the French countryside to write and falls for his Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz), despite the fact that neither of them understands a word the other says. Porn film stand-ins John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) gradually get to know each other while working in very intimate positions. Lonely Colin (Kris Marshall) is convinced that his love life will change greatly for the better if he can just meet some American women. And ex-rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is trying to ride the comeback trail with a cover of “Love Is All Around,” with lyrics swapped out to be a Christmas carol – he’s shameless in both his contempt for the song and his promotion of it.

It needs to be said here that Nighy pretty well steals the film every time he appears. His incarnation of a gimlet-eyed, leathery, do-not-give-a-bleep British rocker is as on the money as it is hilarious, and Curtis’ writing for the character (pretty much a more cynical continuation of the one Nighy played in “Still Crazy”) is heaven. If all rockers promoting awful songs gave interviews as candid as Billy Mack’s, we’d be glued to our radios. Nighy projects seen-it-all, done-it-all with an authority worthy of Keith Richards, while conveying the glittery-eyed mischief of an evil old elf.

A considerable part of Curtis’ skill as a filmmaker is that he’s able to engage in the knowing cynicism of the Billy Mack riff and the underlying celebration of human affection at the same time (even, ultimately, with the Billy character). The movie sincerely believes in love of all types – romantic, sexual, filial, parental, platonic – yet manages to avoid being preachy or overly cute about it. Even the stepfather/stepson subplot, which has the potential to come off like a Very Special Episode of something, has a wryness to it – Neeson and young Sangster are trusted to play the inherent wistfulness, while their lines snap with real humor. Among the rest of the altogether excellent cast, Rickman is a standout, playing his quiet, urbane character with graceful nuance. Rowan Atkinson delivers exactly the right amount of his patented schtick as a department store clerk and Billy Bob Thornton is scarily credible as the visiting President of the United States, who gets into a real and symbolic rivalry with the British Prime Minister.

The soundtrack is studded with well-chosen tracks, including Otis Redding’s rendition of “White Christmas,” The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” and a huge choir arrangement of the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love.”

“Love Actually” is actually lovable. Romantics will feel warmed and prickly old grouches will be so amused by the continual wit that we’ll – uh, they’ll – feel okay about smiling in the face of holiday cheer. It really is a romantic comedy for everyone.

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