Film Reviews

LOVE ACTUALLY

By • Nov 14th, 2003 •

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Universal Pictures and StudioCanal present a Working Title production
Running time — 135 minutes / MPAA rating: R

It is simply elegant and straightforward in intent. The narrator declares, as we watch people embracing at London’s Heathrow Airport, that love is everywhere! So begins a mishmash of stories that come together at a school Christmas pageant. Reminding me of one of my favorite movies, the great “About A Boy,” writer/director Richard Curtis weaves a glut of flimsy characters around the anguish of love. It is a powerful theme skillfully engineered.

The audience left in tears.

Curtis gives us quick snapshots of his stockpile of characters: Britain’s fresh-faced, spanking new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) seems completely guileless and ill at ease around women. He quickly takes a fancy to an average looking aide, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). He decides his attraction is totally inappropriate and has the staffer re-assigned. He starts to regret his decision. Daniel (Liam Neeson) is deeply saddened by the death of his wife. He cries a lot. His young stepson deals with his mother’s death in a very pragmatic way. He has fallen in love with a girl at school who, he believes, does not know he exists.

Harry (Alan Richman) is a successful businessman fending off the hungry pursuit of a young employee (Heike Makatsch). Will Harry succumb jeopardizing his marriage to Karen (Emma Thompson), who is conveniently the Prime Minister’s sister and mother of his two children? While considering his options, Harry finally insists that lovesick Sarah (Laura Linney), after two years and everybody knowing it, ask a fellow worker for a date (Rodrigo Santoro). She messes up their first, passionate encounter.

Juliet (Keira Knightley) is marrying a man whose best friend (Andrew Lincoln) is secretly in love with her. Jamie, (Colin Firth) a novelist, finds his wife cheating on him and takes off for the South of France. He becomes attracted to a Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz) even though they do not speak each other’s language. While this might be a perfect situation for some, they do not get along. He leaves France for the holidays.

Finally, is a movie-stealing role, a has-been rock star, Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), stages a desperate comeback with a Christmas rendering of one of his most popular songs. Billy decides to truthfully bare his soul in every interview. His career be damned. Billy’s long-suffering manager helplessly looks on as he tells interviewers how awful the new song is.

It was one of Billy’s scenes with his manager that started me crying. The entire ensemble cast suddenly gelled. Everything worked precisely as writer/director Curtis intended. I started to feel the pain of love.

How did Curtis do this? Love might be all around, but love can be sad. And “Love, Actually” is really a very sad movie about wanting it, losing it, and then missing it. Thankfully, Curtis knows not to tie up all the stories with a happy ending. Sometimes, you do not win the one you love. Sometimes, you mess up the whole good thing. Sometimes, there is regret. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.

Curtis crams so much into this clumsy tale as if it might be his last chance at moviemaking. It will not be. He has a real gift for expressing emotional suffering through the ordinariness of everyday life. Being without love is sad. Thinking about the right lover can let the best lover slip right by. I didn’t like the movie until I started crying. Up to that point, the character snippets were not enough to hold my impatient attention. Then sadness bled through the glimpses of these characters. Curtis, using music and sparse dialogue, creates an emotional landscape that is heartfelt and powerfully engaging.

Of course, Thompson is brilliant and Neeson shows a real understanding of sorrow. But, as I mentioned, it is Bill Nighy’s swaggering pathos that drew me in.


Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Richard Curtis
Producers: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy
Executive producer: Richard Curtis
Director of photography: Michael Coulter
Production designer: Jim Clay
Music: Craig Armstrong
Costume designer: Joanna Johnston
Editor: Nick Moore

Cast:
Prime Minister: Hugh Grant
Karen: Emma Thompson
Harry: Alan Rickman
Billy Mack: Bill Nighy
Daniel: Liam Neeson
Jamie: Colin Firth
Juliet: Keira Knightley
Natalie: Martine McCutcheon
U.S. President: Billy Bob Thornton
Sarah: Laura Linney
Rufus: Rowan Atkinson
Mark: Andrew Lincoln
Judy: Joanna Page
Aurelia: Lucia Moniz

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