Movie review

Love Actually
Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth
Laura Linney, Emma Thompson

Director : Richard Curtis

Love ActuallyRichard Curtis has a uncanny knack for scripting a side-splitting faux-pas from twenty paces, or turning an everyday, average doorstep or restaurant into an unlikely setting for spine-tingling proclamations of undying, repressed love. His previous scripts from Four Weddings And A Funeral to Notting Hill and the brilliant adaptation of Bridget Jones's Diary brimmed with hopelessly romantic, emotionally inept but extremely likeable characters delivering delectable lines as they fumbled and bluffed their way through the social mazes of their natural South London habitats.
    Love Actually promised all this and more, with Curtis behind the lens as well as the script, a soundtrack brimming with emotive sentiment and an ensemble cast so diverse and gifted that had a bomb hit the set during filming the entire British film industry would have ground to an immediate halt . . . at least until after Christmas.

From the opening credits the mood is set by a series of airport greetings between random families, friends and lovers. Hugh Grant's voiceover tells us that, despite everything else going on in the world (death and wars and such), love is, actually, all around us. And it's literally everywhere we look, from weddings to funerals to school plays and transatlantic orgies, even penetrating the fortified door of Number 10. The random, patchwork nature of these interactions and emotional exchanges reflects the film's structure as we are introduced to a dizzying barrage of characters and storylines, all interwoven with the central theme of love and linked somewhat tenuously together in the final scene.
    These nine or so stories range from the sublime to the ridiculous and pretty much everything in between as we are confronted with just about every possible permutation of love and one-liners that could be squeezed into just over two hours. You can almost imagine Curtis sitting in front of a blank script and penning a few key words around which he intends to build his film, all of course stemming from that crucial four letter word: 'Lost love', 'puppy love', 'unrequited love', 'platonic love', 'romantic love', 'sex-crazed love', 'barrier-crossing love' (which includes the sub-categorized divides of 'class' and 'language') scattered amidst the generic themes of betrayal, loyalty, family and so on. And for each of these descriptions Curtis plucks out a character and writes a story, with apparent disregard for outdated concepts such as plausibility and development.

And so we find Liam Neeson fulfilling the 'lost love' story, supposedly grieving for his dead wife as he coaches his (disturbingly articulate and emotionally vacuous) stepson through his first pre-adolescent crush, which brims with 'puppy love' potential.
    Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon adequately play the subdued lovers transcending class boundaries as the affable new Prime Minister falls (somewhat hastily) for his common yet charming secretary, and Colin Firth pays the jilted lover who's attempt to become a reclusive, misanthropic writer is thwarted by a bright-eyed Portuguese cleaner, providing much comic potential for cross-wired communication.
    Somehow Curtis managed to portray all these aspects of love and romance in Four Weddings and Notting Hill quite naturally without ever appearing contrived, forced or manufactured. It seems that after applying the same age-old formula once again this film suffers heavily from the law of diminishing returns. The audience expects more, and receive less, despite an over-abundance of characters.
    Fortunately some sincerity is found in Alan Rickman as a middle-aged married boss facing the unsubtle advances of his attractive secretary, and Emma Thompson as his wronged wife. It's these two who carry the only real emotional presence of the film in a story which deserves far more time and resolution than it's given.
    And something close to comic salvation lies in the inspired hands of Bill Nighy as the aging rocker promoting his comeback single (a gloriously irreverent take on Love Is All Around), played as an extremely entertaining cross between Rod Stewart and Peter Stringfellow.

As a debut director Curtis seems to be suffering from editors' block; that is, the inability to remove parts of the original script, even though their inclusion may be detrimental to the film as a whole, detracting from more credible storylines and more engaging characters. What this film appears to be lacking is the guidance of a wise friend who could have read over the script and said encouragingly, 'this is a great storyline, but save it for another film' or less encouragingly (but perhaps most usefully); 'Where the hell does this fit in? Keep it simple!'
    As it is this film lacks the cohesion and simplicity which made Four Weddings And A Funeral so endearing, and fails to live up to the high expectations set by its own publicity. But there's no denying that Curtis still knows how to press the right buttons and deposit something mysteriously 'feelgood' in his audience - something that may be short-lived, but something that still makes it extremely hard not to smile as you leave this festive popcorn romance.

:: Tom West

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