Love Actually Review
The romantic comedy - a genre that one can indulge in to serve as pure lighthearted escapism, a place where everything is frothy and gift-wrapped. Characters with jovial glints in their eyes, picture-perfect locations and amusing situations are the usual specification, and when it comes to the world of Richard Curtis, the aforementioned have to be a necessity.
Yes, Richard Curtis, whose CV includes writing credits for British smashes such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and the TV series Blackadder. For his directorial debut - along with penning the script - Curtis has chosen to blend a mixture of everything to do with love and romance into one whole, entitled Love Actually. Nine stories are intertwined, following the exploits of various London citizens in the lead-up to Christmas. Starting in November (around the time the film is released in cinemas, incidentally), we slowly meet the protagonists who will guide us through this swansong about the power of the heart and the connections people can discover between themselves.
The cast is the first thing that strikes the viewer: so much talent has been lassoed into the film that it becomes a spectacle of whispering to your neighbour "I know them from somewhere..."
Beginning in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport, we hear a voiceover, telling us that in this place only positive, happy and loving emotions can be found. We soon realise that these smooth vocals belong to a certain Mr Hugh Grant, acclaimed British star of many a whimsical comedy in recent years, but in Love Actually he plays a different sort of character altogether...the Prime Minister. His segment in the film deals with a romance between him and a tea lady who works at 10 Downing Street - Natalie, a charming Eastender, played by a charming Eastender, Martine McCutcheon.
Other segments include Juliet's (the delectable Keira Knightley) wedding to Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and the complications that ensue; Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) recording a seasonal take on Love is All Around, and his challenge to reach Christmas No. 1; John (Martin Freeman, better known as Tim from The Office) and Judy's rather quirky and up-close relationship; Jamie (Colin Firth) stumbles across his girlfriend's infidelity, then jumps on a plane to France and finds love, the Portugese way, whilst writing a novel; Daniel (Liam Neeson) is trying to cope with the loss of his wife, whilst seeing his young son, Sam (Thomas Sangster), fall in love with a classmate; Harry (Alan Rickman) and Karen (Emma Thompson) are experiencing marital woes, with Harry's eye wandering to coworker Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) is trying to cope with her love (or is it lust?) for a coworker, and also the pain of seeing her troubled brother in a psychiatric home; and hopeless and loveless Colin (Kris Marshall, from BBC's My Family) sets off to the US to find some 'American babes'.
When put together, these stories form an accurate portrait of the many paths love - and indeed lust - can take, and at this seasonal time of year, where love is placed in front of hate for once, this sort of feelgood film can flourish.
There are indeed highlights, but also some of the segments get too much screentime, neglecting some of the other (better) ones. Grant headlines the film, yet his PM segment is one of the weakest ones - he just isn't given the best material to suit his acting, and when compared to his recent Two Weeks Notice, he falls somewhat flat. However, seeing him meet the US President (the wonderful Billy Bob Thornton) is one of the better bits, and it certainly is very relevant this month with the Bush state visit.
The love triangle between Juliet, Peter and Mark is one of the most neglected stories, with no real resolution. Keira Knightley certainly proves her acting prowess, and for an 18 year-old fresh onto the acting scene, it is all the more remarkable. And yes, she is very easy on the eye...!
For comic potential, John and Judy's segment in one of the funniest - due to the many explicit positions and exchanges that occur! Martin Freeman plays Tim's porn star cousin, so his mannerisms and facial acting are here in abundance. Similarly, Colin's trip to the US is full of the standard sex humour, and makes a nice break from the other, more heavy, stories. Seeing Elisha Cuthbert (Kim Bauer from 24) make a cameo appearance is very welcomed, also!
Moving onto the heavier parts, Colin Firth's performance is excellent...many people have overlooked him in the past, but his painful readjustment to life, and the new hope he finds is very enjoyable. Likewise, Liam Neeson is great as the mourning husband, and worried father. What is driving his son into his room, every minute of every day? The scenes between Neeson and his son, played by Sangster, are very touching.
Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney and Heike Makatsch all do well as supporting characters, as well as Rowan Atkinson popping up in a glorified cameo.
Taken as 'popcorn entertainment', and nothing too substantial, then Love Actually will please you. I went in with high expectations, after really liking Curtis' previous work, being a fan of many of the actors, and also being tempted by the trailers. Although it underperformed slightly, my criticisms were perhaps a bit unfair: the film is supposed to be a romantic comedy, and my suggested improvements would have turned it to something more deep.
But, there is no denying some obvious flaws exist - this is Curtis' directorial debut, and no doubt he will mature, the more time he spends behind the camera. Having said that, London is captured beautifully onto film, with some sweeping shots of the city. Perhaps his writing is the main problem, as by undertaking so many different stories and characters he has exposed the film to the audience only connecting to a select few, and not enjoying the rest so much.
If this was edited around a bit, giving better resolutions to some stories and less screentime to the weaker ones, then this would have been up with the likes of Notting Hill. As it is, I heartily recommend you check this film out, and no doubt I will succumb and get this when it comes out on DVD.
Grab your loved ones, take them to your local cinema and let them enjoy a frothy and warm look at life. And although it could be bettered, it's already quite good, actually.