REVIEW: Love Actually
Produced by: Duncan Kenworthy, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Liza Chasin
Written by: Richard Curtis
Edited by: Nick Moore
Cinematography by: Michael Coulter
Music by: Craig Armstrong
Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Thomas Sangster, Colin Firth, Lúcia Moniz, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Heike Makatsch, Bill Nighy, Gregor Fisher, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kris Marshall, Abdul Salis, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Billy Bob Thornton, Olivia Olson, Claudia Schiffer, Rowan Atkinson
It wasn’t too long ago that director Garry Marshall was trying to suffocate us with an onslaught of celebrity-packed rom-coms that crammed in as many storylines and cameos as possible. I managed to avoid these movies up until the lead up to New Year’s Eve 2012, when I promised my stepsister I would review Marshall’s film named after the holiday. It was as bad as I was expecting, but my expectations were even lower at that time because I had also realized that the movie was an unabashed knock off of Love Actually, a British film that pretty much follows the same concept as Marshall’s later films, including the concept of centering it around a major holiday (Christmas) – only, in this case, the movie actually does some justice to the fluffy, audience-ensnaring concept.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with the format, however, let me briefly explain as it pertains to this film. Love Actually follows roughly nine different plot threads, which each plot influencing and more often than not overlapping with one another in regards to character interactions. Through these stories, the film attempts to illustrate for us several examples of the different forms of love that can be found around us if we give it a chance to show itself – a concept poignantly explained in the opening narration as footage of people greeting one another at airports plays on screen before us. Romantic love is present, of course, but there is also brotherly love, familial love, erotic love, unrequited love, puppy love, emerging love, unconditional love, and even love that is lost, and the film is an attempt to illustrate these through these sometimes colorful, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes amusing, and sometimes miserable characters on screen.
I’d heard of the movie before, and I seem to recall my mom had seen it on her own, only to tell me, at the time, that it was a “dumb movie” and that I was not allowed to see it. (Something tells me that certain humorously explicit scenes involving Martin Freeman and Joanna Page had more to do with it than her general disliking of Hugh Grant.) I actually didn’t see this move until I had already come to own it, thanks to an English friend of mine who bought it for me as a Christmas present a few years later, having talked up the film for quite a while after finding out I’d never seen it before. Considering the last time someone bought me a movie that I had neither asked for nor seen before was when a friend inexplicably gave me the DVD of Anaconda back on my 11th birthday (which I still have), I was at least certain that this was going to be a step up.
And it certainly was. Love Actually might not be the best movie in the world, nor is it the best film set during the season of peace and goodwill toward men – heck, it might not even objectively be the best rom-com in the world, either – but what you get here is a lovely little weaving of integrated stories that add up a cute, emotionally satisfying package. The visually amusing aforementioned Freeman/Page scenes get nearly forgotten for a while, unfortunately, and the whole plot regarding Kris Marshall’s sex fiend traveling to America to woo the girls with his British charms isn’t developed nearly enough to make his character anything more than superfluous and somewhat repellant, but the charm and performances of the better stories in this film more than make up for these missteps.
Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson both give their heartbroken characters their trademark warmth and instantly win our compassion, while Laura Linney, as the sole American lead cast member, allows for us to sympathize with her neurotic character’s completely selfless love shown towards a mentally ill brother. Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher’s story regarding the friendship between a curmudgeonly, aging rockstar and his longsuffering manager provides a load full of amusing moments. And then you have the four romantic subplots that provide just the right doses of varying types of romantic fantasy to the film without lowering itslf to Nicholas Sparks-levels of ridiculousness –a young boy, Thomas Sangster, who has an unspoken crush on a classmate; the surprisingly sweet love triangle drama between Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley, and Chiwetel Ejiofor; the flirtations between Colin Firth and Lúcia Moniz as a recently dumped novelist and a housekeeper who don’t even speak the same language; and the modern day parable about Prince Charming finding Cinderella with Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister and Martine McCutcheon as a member of his wait staff.
Love Actually is wonderful, sweet fluff that still has just the right amount of heft to make sure it stays out of the realm of the saccharine sweet romantic comedy dreck – in fact, it’s a lot like taking a can of extra heavy whipped cream and spraying it straight into your mouth repeatedly. (Can you tell I’m writing this the week after Thanksgiving?) It’s sweet, but not overly so; substantial, but never weighed down; and you absolutely enjoy it, despite the somewhat guilty feeling you might get for admitting to it. And you’ll also want to enjoy it all over again, every time this time of year.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5