Movie Review #669
Universal Pictures & StudioCanal present…
…in association with DNA Films…
Studio: Working Title
Country: UK – USA – France
Spoken Languages: English – Portuguese – French
Directed by Richard Curtis. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, and Duncan Kenworthy. Written by Richard Curtis.
Rated R by the MPAA – sexual content, nudity, profanity. Reviewed version runs 2 hours, 15 minutes. Alternate version runs 2 hours, 9 minutes. Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2003; in the USA on November 6, 2003; and in Israel on November 14, 2003. Limited release in the USA on November 7, 2003. Wide release in the USA on November 14, 2003; in the UK on November 21, 2013; and in France on December 3, 2003.
Starring Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Martine McCutcheon, and Rowan Atkinson. Also starring Gregor Fisher, Sienna Guillory, Kris Marshall, Heike Makatsch, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Nina Sosanya, Abdul Salis, Thomas Sangster, Rodrigo Santoro, Lucia Moniz, Billy Bob Thornton, Olivia Olson, Claudia Schiffer, Helder Costa, Carla Vasconcelos, and Stewart Howson. Also featuring Richard Curtis in an uncredited cameo appearance.
“Love actually is all around.”
–The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant)
And what an accurate line that is. “Love Actually” is worth applause because it’s so well done. It’s also worth a garden full of throwable, rotten tomatoes for the agony it causes. I have to assume this is sort of what it was going for. Not that it ends on any shade of melancholy, but it seems to say that love is both great and the source of agony. It works: love actually is great, love actually is agonizing, love actually is all around; and as far as the movie is concerned, “Love Actually” is great, “Love Actually” is agonizing, “Love Actually” is all around.
So why not a “good, bad, ugly” breakdown, or “ugly, bad, good”:
It’s not exactly what the narrator means when ends the introductory monologue with that snippet. What he means is that love, actually, can be found wherever you look. Even around the Most Stressful Time of the Year–the four weeks leading up to Christmas and, for one reason or another, the month after. By the time we reach Christmas Day and the finale “one month later,” the film’s begun to run out of steam very quickly, but I digress. Writer-director Richard Curtis acknowledges that there’s some real Ebenezer Scrooges in this world and that they, too, can be found here, there, and everywhere. But for the sake of storytelling, he singles them out of this sweet, frothy romcom.
There’s the ugly.
I don’t hate the film’s optimism, nor do I hate it because of its optimism. I don’t hate the film at all, and it’s not about liking or hating so much as the way optimism is given here is bad. You have to believe in the where the story evokes a “Hmm…” or an “Is that so.” What we have here are ten stories of cheerful, relaxed people of all different kinds in the United Kingdom who end up falling in love. I don’t know about you guys, but to me, that’s like saying, “If you pick ten random people in the UK, all ten are optimists who have love in their life.” And it really doesn’t matter if you’re a recovering drug addict (Bill Nighy) or the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant). You still fit the description.
There’s the bad.
But where “Love Actually” fails miserably in crafting its story, it succeeds universally in telling it. There’s no avoiding predictability at all here, but particularly with a plot separated into parallel stories, we have better concerns than trying to guess that he’ll fall in love with her, and she with him. The cast has us the whole time, making it even easier to roll along with the plot(s). Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, and Keira Knightley are just a portion of this recognizable British ensemble. Not once does the film lose its charisma, and to be clear, that’s what’s propelling it. The film has been labelled a comedy, but it’s more of a (very) lighthearted drama. So it’s okay that the amusement is scattershot, and even better that it’s so sweet, it’s almost touching. I’ll lend a special mention to my favorite scene: where a man professes his love at the front door, on Christmas Eve–using cue cards.
There’s the good.
I normally wouldn’t place a film directly into the romance genre. Generally, I’ll find that a film’s either a romantic drama or a romantic comedy. Maybe even a comedy-drama with romance as a side feature. “Love Actually” is both drama and comedy, but those seem to sink underneath the surface of the main genre: romance. It’s about love, actually, and nothing else. This is a movie that explores love in all its facets. Of course, it can be highly unrealistic, but I also feel like it’s a movie to be watched by the most stressed of people, and to make them appreciate the love in their lives. It’s a Christmas movie, but in that area, it really would work at any time.