|Variety (by Todd McCarthy,
A roundly entertaining romantic comedy, "Love Actually" is still nearly as cloying as it is funny. Grandly conceived by contemporary British genre master Richard Curtis as a mosaic of love stories that collectively stress the primacy of amour even in difficult times, this doggedly cheery confection persists in going overboard with smiles, hugs, kisses and musical reassurances that all you need is love. But its cheeky wit, impossibly attractive cast and sure-handed professionalism are beguiling all the same, qualities which, along with its all-encompassing romanticism, should make this a highly popular early holiday attraction for adults on both sides of the pond.
After stellar TV work on the likes of "Not the Nine O'Clock News," "Blackadder" and "Mr. Bean," the New Zealand-born Curtis emerged as Blighty's most eminent commercial screenwriter with "The Tall Guy," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary." He now moves confidently into the director's chair. For what it's worth, he gets both the wedding and the funeral out of the way early on in "Love Actually."
Set in a spectacularly decorous London in the five weeks running up to Christmas, pic makes a very big point of always looking on the bright side, with the opening narration positioning even 9/11 as an event that occasioned an outpouring of love, however distressed.
To be sure, any number of the characters
here have to deal with frustration, disappointment, loss and pain, but
in almost every case these feelings are transitory and non-depressing.
The characters scoot from misery or emotional paralysis to bliss in the
time it takes to change clothes, or whenever they discover that someone
is interested in them. And in a move designed to give men some special
satisfaction at a film many will be dragged to by women, rarely have so
many extraordinarily attractive
Showing no strain putting as many balls as he wishes in the air and keeping them aloft, Curtis deftly introduces his ensemble: Drug-ravaged old wild man pop star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) "looking for a comeback at any price" by cutting a sappy lyrics-altered Christmas version of "Love Is All Around;" newlyweds Juliet (Keira Knightley) and Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), with the latter's best friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln) secretly in love with the bride; a bachelor Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) taking up residence at 10 Downing St. and becoming instantly smitten by young tea girl Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), and the PM's sister, efficient housewife and mother Karen (Emma Thompson), whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) may be induced to stray by the provocations of his foxy secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch).
Harry has an employee, Sarah (Laura Linney), who's harbored a helpless crush on shy dreamboat Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) for nearly three years; also feeling the pangs of unrequited love is 10-year-old Sam (Thomas Sangster), whose mother has just died and who confesses to step-dad Daniel (Liam Neeson) his anguish over a girl in school; jilted writer Jamie (Colin Firth) retreats to the south of France, where he begins a linguistically-challenged romance with Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (singer Lucia Moniz); movie stand-ins John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are painfully reticent with one another even though they spend their days together simulating sex in the nude, and then there's Colin (Kris Marshall), a gawky, enthusiastic lad who is convinced that the answer to his dating woes lies in America.
Woven together, and occasionally
intersecting, so effectively that only one of the strands wears out its
welcome—the John and Judy interlude is archly drawn and doesn't go anywhere—the
vignettes are composed mostly of comic and emotional highlights, with no
down time. Due to the inspired concept and casting, the wonderful passages
featuring Grant as the debonairly rumpled new head of state are bound to
be the most remarked upon, especially in Britain. Specifically positioned
as the next leader after Tony Blair, Grant's PM gets off some sharp zingers
at his predecessor and, in a scene designed specifically
However, the Prime Minister reveals a Clintonesque side as well in his obsession with Natalie. As neatly played by former pop tart and "My Fair Lady" McCutcheon, the self-professedly overweight character bears a resemblance to Monica Lewinsky that cannot have been unintentional. Dismayed by the distraction Natalie presents, Grant's PM brings down the house when he peers up at an office portrait of Margaret Thatcher and asks, "Did you have this kind of problem? Oh, of course you did, you saucy minx."
Another highlight is Nighy's sly portrait of the seen-and-done-it-all rocker so self-amused and unconcerned with what anyone thinks that he can't help but tell the rude truth at all times. At once leathery and pickled, theater and TV vet Nighy has all the moves down as a sort of tidier Keith Richards for whom reclaimed success is just one giant and unexpected lark.
In their own ways, other storylines become engaging as well. Although Neeson's Daniel seems overly anxious to move on from his wife's death, and he much too readily uses sexual profanity with his little stepson (a trait off-puttingly shared here by other adults around pre-pubescent kids), Sangster is so winning as the lovelorn but resourceful Sam that spending time with the two of them is more than pleasant. Marshall is a joy as the enthusiastic bloke who hits the babe jackpot the moment he arrives in the U.S. The nervous attraction between Jamie and Aurelia, who don't comprehend a word they're exchanging but understand one another perfectly all the same, is expertly played for laughs as well as heart tugs, and die-hard romantics will fall hook, line and sinker for the very public climax to their courtship.
Portraying more melancholy emotions are Thompson's Karen, who succinctly captures the controlled anxiety of a woman who senses her marriage might be fracturing before her eyes, and Linney's Sarah, who's selflessly boxed herself into a place where romance is truly impossible. Overall, the cast is outrageously attractive playing characters almost uniformly hot to trot at a moment's notice.
Still, as the episodes are stacked into a mile-high love sandwich, the film comes to seem too insistent, too calculated, too much the cheerleader for a cause that doesn't need such relentless persuasion. The grand finale, which brings most of the characters—and hundreds of others—together in a Heathrow arrivals hall, socks over the picture's overriding theme in a way that will send mainstream auds out in a happy mood.
Curtis has presided over the creation
of a package that feels as luxuriously appointed and expertly tooled as
a Rolls-Royce. Michael Coulter's resplendent lensing makes the beautiful
people and terrific locations look even more fabulous than they do already,
a cause aided by Jim Clay's production design and Joanna Johnston's costumes.
Editor Nick Moore helps balance the storylines with keen senses of rhythm
and proportion. Composer Craig Armstrong and music supervisor Nick Angel
make catchy contributions that occasionally become overbearing. Pic has
an invigorating and teasing sense of Anglo-American interplay that ranges
from the political to the sexual.
The Hollywood Reporter (by Kirk Honeycutt, 10/24/03)
Bottom line: A blizzard of Christmas stories, each insubstantial as a snowflake, but cumulatively they smother you in good cheer.
"Love Actually" reminds you of an elaborate Christmas card that tumbles apart with pop-up figures, silly/charming greetings and perhaps even a jingle. It probably cost more than the gift it heralds, and you can't help but laugh at the audacity of such an aggressively cheerful card. Clearly, the gift giver wants to love and be loved, and only a Scrooge would deny him his reward. But you also wish he'd heard the phrase "less is more."
The gift giver is Richard Curtis, a writer ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") and, for the first time here, director of comedies that focus on the pursuit of love. Curtis' real gift is that of sharp, rapid-fire dialogue, easily recognizable characters, a benign view of humanity and a knack for making sentimentality feel righteous. This movie, for all its calculation and manipulation, comes from a true believer. He really does believe—as Oscar Hammerstein II once insisted a composer such as himself must—in "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens." Audiences should respond to the determinedly feel-good nature of "Love Actually" as a top-flight cast of (mostly) British actors sells its love message very well.
The movie is less a traditional story than an elaboration of a theme. This gets pronounced by a narrator at the opening as you watch friends and family tearfully greet at London's Heathrow Airport: "General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. Seems to me that love is everywhere."
The movie flips among myriad stories in the weeks before Christmas, none terribly original or compelling in itself, but in the aggregate they illustrate Curtis' theme. A new bachelor prime minister (Hugh Grant) walks into 10 Downing Street and is immediately smitten with a staff member (Martine McCutcheon). A recently widowed stepfather (Liam Neeson) struggles to forge a deeper relationship with his late wife's son (Thomas Sangster). An executive (Alan Rickman) encourages a female employee (Laura Linney) to act on her longtime crush on a fellow worker (Rodrigo Santoro), even as he debates the wisdom of falling into an affair with a most willing colleague (Heike Makatsch), thus betraying his wife of many years (Emma Thompson).
A bride (Keira Knightley) comes to realize that her husband's best mate (Andrew Lincoln) is madly in love with her. A cuckolded novelist (Colin Firth) flees to the south of France only to become infatuated with the Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz) despite their inability to speak each other's language. An aging rock star (a hilarious Bill Nighy) launches a comeback with a Christmas song he knows is crap and freely says so on a truth-telling tour.
Squeezed between these subplots are eminently disposable ones such as two movie stand-ins who shyly fall in love while entirely naked or a food vendor who believes a trip to any bar in America will yield a bevy of beauties to fall for his English accent.
These plot threads (and they really are threads) contain little substance. Each is intriguing, but with the exception of the widower and stepson, none achieves any resonance. All are too fragmentary, though containing enough clever dialogue and sexy moments to distract from the sheer flimsiness.
The production is a winning one,
with London turned into a winter wonderland with a side excursion to a
rather summery-looking France. As always with a Curtis comedy, the stories
pivot around major set pieces—a wedding, funeral, a school Christmas pageant
and an implausible news conference in which the British PM dresses down
an arrogant American president (Billy Bob Thornton). Curtis imbues his
tales of broken hearts and ecstatic adoration with a festive passion and
a cheerful optimism that sweeps the viewer up. It's only afterward that
you wonder when the writer fell in love with the maid or why a prime minister
would have no social life or how the wife forgave her wandering husband.
Moviehole (by Paul Fischer, 9/8/03)
Saving the best to last and the perfect way to end the day, is Love Actually, marking the directorial debut of the ingenious Richard Curtis. Toronto screened the film as a work-in-progress, and aren’t we glad they did! This ensemble comedy tells ten separate (but intertwining) stories of love in London (with a small portion set in France), leading up to a big climax on Christmas Eve. One of the threads follows the brand new (unmarried) Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) of the United Kingdom, who on his first day in 10 Downing Street falls in love with the girl (Martine McCutcheon) who brings him his tea (Emma Thompson plays his sister; Alan Rickman plays her husband who falls for his secretary). Another story follows the relationship between a widowed stepfather (Liam Neeson) and his young stepson, who ends up giving the youngster love advice. Then there’s the writer [Colin Firth] who falls in love with his Italian housekeeper.
We live in cynical times, and so
a film such as Love Actually, a grown up film for adults, is a rarity and
a welcome surprise. Curtis has written a perfect screenplay, one that combines
the comic irreverence we know so well, with finely etched characters who
possess a flawed humanity. As deliriously funny this film is at times,
it remains a moving and even heartbreaking tale of the pangs of love, loss,
requited and unrequited love, and deep friendships. We see here the genuine
love between men and women, fathers and sons, close friends, lusty betrayals,
and in fact a microcosm of human relationships, with all their
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