Love Actually

Richard Curtis is best known for his writing ability. From his weird and wonderful mind came the scripts for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, the adaptation for Bridget Jones's Diary and various episodes of Mr. Bean. Curtis clearly has a talent for comedy, and more specifically, romantic comedy. The films he has participated in have been among the few romantic comedies to be romantic and funny without getting quickly annoying. For Love Actually, he steps into the role of director, and apparently decided that one romance is not enough. Now, there are over twenty principal characters and probably close to ten actual romances, depending on what one defines as a 'romance.'

Curtis' purpose for so many stories was to show how love can come in different shapes and sizes. It can rush over one like a torrent or sneak up on somebody. It can be passionate or dull, unexpected or predictable. Each romance in the film constitutes a different kind of relationship, and the totality shows that yes, love can prevail. It is a somewhat naive and unabashedly romantic sentiment, and Curtis is able to pull it off because he is good at writing stuff like this. One large advantage to having so many characters is that instead of fleshing out a full movie and script for one story, Curtis can pick and choose the best lines/points of each story and insert it in the film. This means that he can heap happy ending upon happy ending. The flip side is that because there are so many people, he frequently glosses over characters. There is no time for development, so each person gets a quick spotlight, then Love Actually moves on to the next story.

The 'main' story revolves around the new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant, Two Weeks Notice) who is falling in love with one of his assistants (Martine McCutcheon, Kiss Kiss [Bang, Bang]) although he is trying not to. The largest weakness is how Curtis connects these stories. The Prime Minister's sister's (Emma Thompson, Treasure Planet) husband (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) is beginning to notice his secretary's (Heike Makatsch, Resident Evil) advances. The connection is thin, and he may as well make them separate. An author (Colin Firth, What a Girl Wants) and his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniza) are falling in love with each other although they cannot understand each other. A newlywed (Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean) doesn't know that her husband's (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dirty Pretty Things) best friend (Andrew Lincoln, Offending Angels) is madly in love with her. A grieving widower (Liam Neeson, K-19: The Widowmaker) wants to help his stepson (an unbelievably cute Thomas Sangster, Mrs. Meitlemeihr) get the courage to tell a girl at school he likes her. A teacher (Laura Linney, Mystic River) has a crush on a co-worker (Rodrigo Santoro, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle) but has personal issues holding her back. And there is more.

Bill Nighy (Underworld, I Capture the Castle) manages to steal the show as Billy Mack, an aging rocker trying to make a comeback with a remake of "Love is All Around" with the word "Christmas" replacing "Love." He knows the single is horrible and tells everybody. In the past year, Nighy has tackled some very different roles (come on, vampire prince?) and managed to come across as convincing in each one. He is absolutely hilarious here as somebody who will say whatever is on his mind, damn the consequences. Other people, like a sex-crazed Brit (Kris Marshall, The Four Feathers), who heads off to Wisconsin to find American lust, are there purely for comic relief. Rowan Atkinson (Johnny English) and Billy Bob Thornton (Intolerable Cruelty) even shows up for some paper-thin cameos.

Curtis is able to keep things moving fast, and even at two hours Love Actually feels rushed, mainly because of the constant switching between stories. He callously manipulates the viewer, milking the emotions for all they are worth, but he makes no secret about his intentions. Since everybody knows what they are in store for, it feels okay that all these stories feel a little hokey. And, there are a lot of extremely talented actors here. Because their parts are all so small, they get to concentrate their talent, so Rickman is annoyed, Grant is flustered, Firth is stuffy, and so on. Love Actually is like a romantic comedy for people with ADD. The film requires little thought, it passes quickly, and one will be smiling the entire way through.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 9 minutes, Rated R for sexuality, nudity, and language.

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