Saturday, December 27, 2014

Love Actually (2003)

Director: Richard Curtis                                   Writer: Richard Curtis
Film Score: Hans Zimmer                                Cinematography: John Toll
Starring: Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson and Laura Linney

This is such a stupid movie. And yet . . . if you hang around long enough, it’ll get you in the end. Love Actually is the worst kind of Love Boat romantic comedy that features not only every British star alive at the time, but a few Americans as well. What writer-director Richard Curtis attempts to do in this film is capture a snapshot of almost every kind of love there is, from decades old marriages to new romances and everything in between. And to top it off, he makes it all revolve around Christmas time and essentially does the filmic version of what actor Bill Nighy does in the movie. It shouldn’t work, not by a long shot, but there’s just never any one spot that’s so bad you have to turn it off and then suddenly you find you can’t turn it off. Which isn’t to say the film is good, it’s not. It’s atrocious, in fact. But there’s something about it that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. Curtis, of course, is a veteran of the British romantic comedy, having written Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary prior to this. By now he has a definite cinematic style that seems to have struck a chord with movie-going audiences, with self deprecating males and aggressive females who have their hearts in the right place no matter what kind of mistakes they make. It isn’t great cinema, but it’s frothy and fun, and sometimes it’s just the antidote for all of the searing drama and action films that fill up every other movie screen in the mall.

The film begins at Heathrow Airport with people of all kinds meeting their loved ones and Hugh Grant doing an incredibly corny voice over about how “love actually is all around.” Then everyone is introduced. Bill Highy is a lonely sixties rocker recording a new Christmas song. Colin Firth leaves his sick girlfriend behind to attend a wedding. Recent widower Liam Neeson is consoled by his friend, Emma Thompson. Kris Marshall is a horny delivery boy who is convinced he can’t get laid in England. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page are sex doubles for big stars in a feature film, and groom Chiwetel Ejiofor and best man Andrew Lincoln are best friends at Ejiofor’s wedding to Keira Knightly. Hugh Grant, the new prime minister of England, is instantly smitten with Nina Sosanya who works as a food server at 10 Downing Street, and bristles at U.S. President Billy Bob Thornton's treatment of her. When Firth comes home before the reception he finds out his brother is having an affair with his girlfriend and moves to France. Marshall then decides he needs to go to America if he ever wants to have sex. Linney notices Lincoln is obsessed with Ejiofor, or so she thinks, and at the funeral for Neeson’s wife the audience meets her 10-year-old son, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Meanwhile Alan Rickman is being pursued at his office by his new secretary, Heike Makatsch, and at the same office Laura Linney is desperately in love with Rodrigo Santoro though they have barely spoken in nearly three years. And that’s all in the first twenty minutes.

The whole point of the exercise for Curtis seems to be figuring out how many of these strands he can weave together into one coherent whole. And it almost works. Everyone seems to know everyone else through someone else, a six-degrees of separation that tries to make the disparate lot seem somehow a unified ensemble. One of the conceits of the film is that Bill Nighy’s aging rocker is revamping one of his hit songs as a crassly commercial attempt to make money and renew his popularity. Throughout the film he denigrates the song for what it is and makes no attempt to pretend he likes it. Of course the song is competing for the top Christmas song in Britain that year--something they apparently do over there. And in a way it’s a nice analogy with what Curtis is doing in the film. He almost dares you to take the thing seriously, when the reality is it’s simply a piece of holiday fluff that makes no pretensions toward art. The two threads of the film that he saves for the end are arguably the best and the worst. The worst is the young Thomas Brodie-Sangster encouraged by step-dad Liam Neeson to tell the object of his desire that he loves her no matter what the cost. The best is easily Colin Firth and the surprising relationship he develops with his Portuguese maid, Lucia Moniz. That would have made an interesting movie all by itself. Surprisingly, Love Actually, while not actually good, is also not actually difficult to like.

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