With films like “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill” Richard Curtis is one of the few makers of British films enjoying considerable and consistent success across the Atlantic. His assault on the US box-office continued during the 2003 pre-Christmas season, taking on not one but all of eight love stories within a single film. For what was initially a three-and-a-half hour love fest (the final version has been boiled down to a much more bearable 135 minutes), Curtis assembled an awesome cast ensemble of well respected actors and one of the most comprehensive showcases of British talent with the exception perhaps of the Harry Potter series. For good measure some American faces are included as well. “Love Actually” also marked Curtis’ debut as writer and director and while the film doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous projects, it has since established itself as a firm Christmas favourite.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the film follows the lives of several London citizens and their quests to find or reaffirm love. Led by newly-elected amiable Prime Minister (Hugh Grant – let’s hope that never materialises) who spends his time casting glances in the general direction of Martine McCutcheon’s thighs rather than running the country, all the stories are loosely connected and influence each other. Many characters fit quite neatly into stereotypes, some parts are typecast and it’s all a little predictable, the film nevertheless musters enough charm to remain likeable even through it’s most cheesy moments. Author Colin Firth’s blossoming romance with attractive Portugese waitress Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz), Andrew Lincoln’s love for a married Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s troubled relationship are the highlights. As humorous as they are tragic, these three cores (as well as the PM one) provide most of the film’s heart. Bill Nighy meanwhile is clearly having a ball as old-time Rock star Billy Mack, trying for Christmas No1 with an adaption of Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” and carries most of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments. Then there’s Kris Marshall’s Colin who, in a dumb role almost identical to his Nick Harper in “My Family” who jets off to America in the hope of finding hot girls to sleep with. All in all it’s quite complex yet it remains easy to follow and repeat watches may help to catch some of the smaller connections.
The film is not without problems however. As the end-credits roll, there’s a lingering feeling that the balance wasn’t quite right. Some of the plot strands are sadly neglected, like turns from Martin Freeman and Joanna Page in a very unconventional love story. Laura Linney’s attempts to bed her work colleague Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but is cruelly prevented by a commitment to her mentally ill brother, is another strand that goes unfinished. Instead, the horribly tacky “love story” between Liam Neeson’s son (Thomas Brodie Sangster) and a school sweetheart, could have and should have been shortened considerably. A look at the deleted scenes on the DVD reveal some of the material that should perhaps have made the finished product. In any other film, these factors would contribute to a sagging in the rating, but Curtis handles it all so well and inserts some excellent cameos (Billy Bob Thornton! Ant and Dec! Rowan Atkinson!) that “Love Actually’s” faults are relatively easy to forgive.
Scotsman Craig Armstrong was hired by Curtis to compose original music for the film. Squashed in between a collection of songs by everyone from Girls Aloud via Sugababes and Nora Jones to Joni Mitchell, Armstrong’s score is based primarily around three love themes which are adapted and arranged as necessary. These are the Glasgow Love Theme, the PM’s Love Theme and the Portuguese Love Theme. From beautifully restrained piano to expertly over-the-top heroism, the score is a great if a little short work by the composer. Three tracks were included on the European album, only one on the American edition. Also included is the Billy Mack version of “Christmas is All Around.” In addition, a 20 minute for your consideration promo score is available. Overall, the music is fluffy and certainly lightweight but like the film it is highly enjoyable. As for the songs, well, that depends if you can picture the British Prime Minister dancing around Downing Street No10 to the sounds of “Jump” by Girls Aloud.
“Love Actually” resides on the guilty pleasure lists of some and is ardently adored by others. Its enduring popularity with audiences on this side of the Atlantic and the other is testament to Curtis’ talents and to those of the awesome cast that make it so memorable. At Christmas this film is, actually, all around.
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