Ten separate but vaguely intertwining stories of love in modern London (and a bit in Marseilles), lead up to a climactic resolution on Christmas Eve. The film begins six weeks before Christmas, with the new bachelor Prime Minister of England (Hugh Grant), arriving at 10 Downing Street and falling at first sight for the chubby and bubbly girl who brings him his tea. The PM’s sister Karen (Emma Thompson) and her husband Harry (Alan Rickman) are having a bit of a crisis, as is Sarah (Laura Linney) who has been secretly pining for co-worker Carl (Rodrigo Santoro) and is encouraged by her boss – Harry – to go get him at the Christmas party. Other stories include newlyweds and another secret love that is discovered after the wedding, and the special relationship between just-widowed stepfather (Liam Neeson) and very young Sam (Thomas Sangster).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It isn’t as clever as it thinks it is or as good as it wants to be, but Love Actually is still loads of fun as long as your expectations aren’t overly raised by the hype, the cast and the taglines. It is a completely fabricatious, soppy and silly, romantically mushy piece of flim flam.
The casting is sometimes a bit sus – Hugh Grant as a young bachelor Prime Minister, for instance, suggesting that we aren’t meant to take any of this seriously – but obstinately non-ageist. Romantic couplings (with the exception of the troubled marriage of Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s characters, ironically enough) are of older men with younger women, except in the case of an older woman and younger man (Laura Linney and hunky model-actor Rodrigo Santoro, whose name is conspicuously absent from the official notes to the film).
But the film’s heart is in the right place: in the idealistic heart of us all, as it purports to prove that love is all around. In a world so ready with hate and so broiling with negative passions, Love Actually is a sign that filmmakers are taking matters seriously and delivering medicated movies to soothe our anguished souls. The beginning of Love Actually is brilliant; engaging, inventive, funny and promising. It doesn’t quite manage to keep it up for its much too long running time, but there are some good laughs to be had, as well as some (well signposted) heartache.
In its way, the film prays on our emotions and fantasies, but not like the English might have done naturally: they’ve studied Hollywood and designed their own version of schmalz. I don’t mean that unkindly, but it’s an unavoidable feeling when the resolutions are all so contrived. Performances are mostly as expected (except Billy Bob Thornton’s bland cameo as US President) from the top-line thesps like the fumbling romantic cad, Hugh Grant, the engagingly English Emma Thompson, the suppressed and dry romantic Colin Frith, the emotionally pulsating Laura Linney and the decently macho Liam Neeson. Martine McCutcheon is fresh as Grant’s Downing Street secretary with a big smile and an even bigger heart and Bill Nighy steals the film for me as Billy, the mid-50s rock star making a self-deprecating comeback.
Indeed, the film’s really genuine moment of emotion is a scene between him and Billy his overweight manager of many years (an actor unrecognised in the available material). The attempt at Altmanesque storytelling with a larger than life romantic element doesn’t quite raise the roof, although there are enough moments to satisfy if you’re just escaping from reality.
Review by Louise Keller:
A spectacularly heart-warmingly funny, genuine and delightful tribute to love, Love Actually is… wonderful! What clever writing and directing by Richard Curtis, who has a natural knack for giving us what we want. From the creators of Four Weddings and a Funeral and a cast that reads like a ‘who’s who’, comes this jigsaw sculpted from life’s photo albums, where all kinds of love are on display.
There’s the thrill of new love, the devastation of lost love, the jolt of lust, the realisation of love, the comfort, the yearning, the provoking, the discovering and the disappointment of love. Serenaded by a string of tunes such as All You Need Is Love, Puppy Love and Love is All Around Me, music is the romantic weaver of dreams, as it connects us emotionally to the various story strands.
In a countdown to Christmas, the season of love, we are drawn into the lives of many different characters whose appeal is immediate. There’s an ageing rocker out to top the charts for Christmas with a re-release of an old hit; a debonair new prime minister at No 10; a forthright young woman from the dodgy end of Wandsworth; a cuckolded writer seeking refuge with his typewriter and non-english-speaking Portuguese housekeeper in the South of France; a widower unable to cope; an eleven year old stepson overwhelmed by his first experience of love; a couple at the crossroads – he flattered by the attention of his sexy secretary, she feeling frumpy; a bride discovering affections from both the groom and the best man; a couple who treat acting in a pornographic movie as casually as a handshake; a young man dreaming of becoming Casanova.
Each character touches us in some way. Bill Nighy’s outrageous and surprisingly touching has-been rock-star is terrific, plus there’s a treat of a cameo by who else but Michael Parkinson. Only a few minutes in the company of Liam Neeson’s grieving Daniel takes us to the brink of tears, while seconds later our tears turn to joy as Keira Knightley’s bride begins the biggest adventure of her life. Champion of the impossible love affairs, Colin Firth’s Jamie charms us silly in a climactic romantic scene that rivals any in Bridget Jones, and Hugh Grant continues his love affair with us with his very British foot-in-mouth character he has perfected – this time in the guise of the English Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, Rowan Atkinson makes sure we don’t forget a single moment of his expressive shop assistant: the seconds have never taken so long to tick by. What joy there is in Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s married couple: the moments are priceless and none more moving than the lonely instant in her bedroom when Joni Mitchell’s words ‘Don’t Give Yourself Away’ from Both Sides Now exposes her Karen absolutely.
From tranquillity to chaos, Love Actually is a journey we can’t wait to take. And I didn’t want it to end. With a masterful stroke, the specific becomes the general, allowing the mood to spill over into each and everyone of our lives. A beautifully crafted, heavenly feel-good movie, this is one film that leaves you brimming over with emotions.
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LOVE ACTUALLY (M)
CAST: Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, January Jones
PRODUCER: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Duncan Kenworthy
DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis
SCRIPT: Richard Curtis
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Coulter
EDITOR: Nick Moore
MUSIC: Craig Armstrong
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jim Clay
RUNNING TIME: 129 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2003