Thursday, November 13, 2003
Photo: Liam Neeson (right) plays a widower who must comfort himself and his son after his wife''s death.
Taking the ensemble romantic comedy just about as far as it can go, Love Actually (which is directed and also written by Four Weddings and a Funeral scribe Richard Curtis) spins a merry skein of loves lost and found amid the bustle of holiday-season London.
It''s such a lengthy skein that you wish Curtis, in his directing debut, would have scaled back a bit on the interlocking stories-there are more hearts on sleeves here than there are Labour Party regulars fed up with Tony Blair''s doggedly pro-Bush Iraq policy.
Briefly (if such a thing is possible), the film revolves around a prime minister (Hugh Grant) who falls for his secretary (Martine McCutcheon), a widower (Liam Neeson) and his adolescent son (Thomas Sangster) who struggle to survive their grief, a company executive (Alan Rickman) who falls for a sexy employee (Heike Makatsch) while ignoring his wife (Emma Thompson), and another employee in the same firm who tries to land her not-so-obscure object of affection (Rodrigo Santoro).
There''s also a newlywed (Keira Knightley) who is pursued by her husband''s best friend (Andrew Lincoln), a novelist in the South of France who''s after his Portuguese maid (Lúcia Moniz), and the great Bill Nighy as an endearingly ridiculous and post-prime rock star out to milk one last hit from a novelty Christmas tune.
And there''s probably more going on, too, but after all that, it gets a bit blurry. I seem to recall Billy Bob Thornton as a libidinous and Bush-like American president who gets a proper dressing down from Grant''s prime minister (to cheers, I might add, from the one Brit in the audience in the screening I attended), but once again, there are so many plotlines tangling and untangling in Love Actually that it''s all a bit much.
Grant and Thompson are the standout performers here, he with his muted London cool cranked up to 11 and she with her hurt eyes and furrowed brow, but Rickman, as the straying spouse, manages to make the surreptitious purchase of a Christmas gift (from Rowan Atkinson, no less) into a comic tour de force. Curtis is, without question, the most traditionally romantic fellow working in film today-his 1989 script for the film The Tall Guy, with Jeff Goldblum and Thompson, was a masterpiece of the genre-and so Love Actually is almost certainly guaranteed to be the feel-squishy hit of the season, despite the fact that it''s too crowded by half.
Finally, it''s not so much the individual storylines that grab you, but Curtis'' unrelenting optimism. In the end, it''s nice to know that love, actually, does conquer all.
Love Actually [3 1/2 stars]
Directed by Richard Curtis
Starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Billy Bob Thornton, Joanna Page, Rowan Atkinson
(Rated R, 135 min.)