Tuesday 28 April 2015

Movie Review: Love Actually (2003)

Featuring nine loosely-connected vignettes about love as London counts down to Christmas, Love Actually achieves its modest objectives by risking a variety of outcomes and allocating almost enough time for each story to breathe and develop.

With five weeks to go until Christmas, several tales of love and romance unfold concurrently:

  • Aging and washed-up rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) attempts an unlikely comeback by re-recording one of his old songs and promoting it as the Christmas hit of the season. Much to the horror of his long-suffering manager Joe (Gregor Fisher), Billy embarks on a crass, foul-mouthed marketing campaign which remarkably starts to work.
  • The newly elected British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant), an eligible bachelor, moves into 10 Downing Street and is immediately attracted to Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a junior staff member.
  • Karen (Emma Thompson) is the Prime Minister's sister. She is married to Harry (Alan Rickman), but the passion has seeped out of their relationship. At Harry's office, Mia (Heike Makatsch) sets her eyes on sexually devouring Harry. 
  • Also at Harry's office, the dowdy Sarah (Laura Linney) has a deep crush on co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), but she cannot find the courage to act upon it. Sarah's life seems to be controlled by her cell phone, as she frequently receives calls from someone who desperately needs her.
  • Writer Jamie (Colin Firth) discovers his girlfriend sleeping with his bother. He resets his life in the country and meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). They have a huge language barrier between them, but nevertheless grow close.
  • Jamie's friend Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) marries his long-term girlfriend Juliet (Keira Knightley). Peter's best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) harbours a deep, silent crush on Juliet.
  • Karen's friend Daniel (Liam Neeson) is recently widowed. His young stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster) is experiencing his first schoolboy crush, falling under the spell of flashy American classmate Joanna (Olivia Olson).
  • John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are movie set body doubles who meet while simulating hot sex scenes. Although both are comfortable fully naked, both are also painfully shy in their private lives.
  • After repeatedly striking out while trying to chat up women, Colin (Kris Marshall) decides that he needs to head off to the United States, where he is convinced there would be plenty of stunning girls waiting to fall into bed with him, mainly due to his British accent.
Directed and written by Richard Curtis, who had previously found success as the writer and producer of Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary (all with Hugh Grant), Love Actually is simply sweet. With an ambitious running time of 136 minutes, the film hops between the various stories with admirably agility, never lingering for too long and returning to every sketch just in time to catch up with the latest developments. Curtis' main achievement resides in creating about 25 characters who are all memorable in their own way, despite not spending much more than 15 minutes on each of the romances.

As can be expected, not all the stories fully hit their targets. Body doubles John and Judy are perhaps the most short-changed in terms of narrative development, while wannabe womanizer Colin's escapades are played purely for laughs. The progression and resolution of Mark's crush on best-friend's-wife Juliet misses the mark completely. Sam's grade school crush on Joanna is overextended, and falls victim to a sugar overdose. 

Better and more engaging, the language-challenged affair between struggling writer Jamie and housekeeper Aurélia emerges as the most romantic story, while the Karen/Harry/Mia triangle is a serious peek at a marriage drifting sideways and falling victim to middle aged ennui. Grant brings the best aspects of his arrogant self-doubter persona to the Prime Minister's office, and gets to deliver a punchy speech to the American President (Billy Bob Thornton) that has become legendary in British political circles.

Curtis demonstrates courage to find endings that are a mixed bag of happy, sad and unresolved, and extends the definition of love to some unexpected places, particularly with singer Billy Mack and office worker Sarah. Love Actually is about the connections formed by the human spirit, and sometimes the sparks are brightest in the most unlikely places.

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