Love Actually
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Love Actually Writer Richard Curtis (Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones) finally takes control of his own material, directing this sprawling ensemble romantic comedy. You almost need a flow chart to keep track of the characters, but somehow Curtis and his gifted editor keep it all clear for us. Nine love stories are intertwined as Christmas approaches....

1: The new plain-talking British Prime Minister (Grant) is immediately drawn to his plain-talking tea lady (McCutcheon). 2: The PM's sister Karen (Thompson) is worried about her husband Harry's (Rickman) relationship with his secretary Mia (Makatsch). 3: Harry's star employee Sarah (Linney) has a secret office crush on a hunky coworker (Santoro). 4: Karen's recently widowed best friend (Neeson) is helping his young stepson (Sangster) cope with his first crush. 5: Mia's art gallery owner friend (Lincoln) has trouble relating to his best buddy Peter's (Ejiofor) new wife (Knightley). 6: Peter's novelist friend Jamie (Firth) escapes a bad relationship in the South of France, but begins to fall for his Portuguese housekeeper (Moniz) even though they don't speak a shared language. 7: A loser (Marshall) heads to America where gorgeous girls will find his English accent irresistible, or so he hopes. 8: Two movie stand-ins (Freeman and Page) struggle to express their feelings, despite outrageous physical intimacy on set. 9: And ageing bad boy rocker Billy Mack (Nighy) is trying for a comeback with a Christmas novelty single, a reworking of Love Is All Around, both a fantastic gag and a witty reference to Four Weddings.

Curtis plays with every conceivable permutation of the rom-com and doesn't forget to include some serious and even sad moments. He's also a smart enough filmmaker to play with cliches without ever falling back on them; the overall structure is carefully manipulative and we don't mind at all, even as it builds to the big, contrived scenes. Standouts in the cast are Nighy (a deliriously funny role with all the best lines), Thompson (in a startlingly complicated Oscar-worthy turn) and Grant (on peak form as a dream PM who dares to stand up to the US President--a slightly miscast Thornton). Honourable mention goes to Firth, Lincoln, Neeson, Linney, Rickman and the superb Sangster. More problematic are the too-broad McCutcheon, the lightweight Knightley and the criminally underused Ejiofor.

Besides the sheer joy of watching this film, it's also worth seeing for what it has to say about romance--both the sweet fairy tale fluff and the more melancholy realities. By touching on virtually every conceivable amorous notion, Curtis continually hits both the hilarious funny notes and the meaningful emotional ones. Love actually is all around.

cert 15 themes, language, some nudity 8.Oct.03

dir-scr Richard Curtis
with Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Martine McCutcheon, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Thomas Sangster, Rodrigo Santoro, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kris Marshall, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Gregor Fisher, Heike Makatsch, Lucia Moniz, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Michael Parkinson, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards
release US 7.Nov.03; UK 16.Nov.03
03/UK 2h09

Say anything: Lincoln pours out his heart...

grant thompson firth
linney neeson knightley
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R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Doug Griffin, Seattle: 1 out of 5 stars "I have to say it was one of the most contrived, most cynical, most all-around bad films I've ever seen. Why cynical? The film presents ideas and relationships stolen from any number of other better films, strips them to their essence in terms of audience appeal (here is where you are supposed to laugh, cry, etc). It then intertwines all of these relationships into a completely unbelievable stew (like the finale where almost everyone in the film happens to show up at the airport at the same time). I was really surprised that anyone of the caliber of Emma Thompson or Liam Neeson would knowingly be a part of this unbelievably bad movie." (18.Oct.03)

Love Actually Ren Sittnick, Grants, New Mexico: 4 out of 5 stars "The movie was recommended to me as a comedy and wasn't, but was definately fun to watch because of the crazy intricacies of mainly five (up to ten?) struggling relationships. Most of it was tearjerkingly touching, a bit over the top, but in a holiday spirit sort of way. Love Actually has a lot of stupidly laughable moments. I appreciated the relationship between Liam Neeson's character and his stepson as he coaches him in a romantic pursuit. Emma Thompson draws great empathy for her character; superb acting. Hugh Grant's character is stupid, foolish and bumbling as always, but still somehow likeable. It is a long movie, so maybe make sure the theater has comfortable seats, which I was aware of only at the end when the director achingly tried to tie up all of the loose ends. The film is bookended by emotionally joyous scenes of welcome at airports reminding us that love is paradoxically very ordinary and very precious at once." (10.Nov.03)

Love Actually Laurie T, Minneapolis: "This movie has been making a big showing of the trailers, which look actually hilarious. Unfortunately, the movie is kinda just that - a bunch of trailers. It starts out saying that 'Love actually is all around.' That being said, I did not really dislike this movie - was just more disappointed. After all the hype, and seeing Hugh Grant looking silly singing Christmas carols and dancing, I just expected to see more of that kind of comedy. Instead, it follows more than one love affair, never really getting too deeply detailed on any one - just hitting the highlights of a few people who are all interconnected (six degrees of separation?). The film has its moments. And it makes you chuckle. I just left feeling like I had been watching movie trailers for over two hours." (21.Nov.03)

Love Actually Dave Haviland, London: 5 out of 5 stars "This ensemble approach is a bold move for Richard Curtis, who directs for the first time after writing more conventional hits such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. Hugh Grant is the comic star turn as the prime minister who reluctantly falls in love with his tea lady; a surprisingly charming Martine McCutcheon. The other major threads are sadder. However, for once, feel free to believe the hype. The whole thing is expertly handled. The pace never sags, no scene outlasts its welcome, and we come to care for these characters far quicker than might be expected with so many stories to tell. The visual style is simple and unobtrusive, but surprisingly innovative at key moments. In a disappointing year for film, and film comedy in particular, Richard Curtis has come up with an instant classic, and a Christmas favourite for decades to come." (30.Dec.03)

2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall