Love Actually
directed by Richard Curtis
(Universal, 2003)

How can it be?

A film in which Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson play a long-married couple belatedly feeling that seven-year itch made me restless.

A film in which the always-astounding Laura Linney plays a woman whose love life is on hold as she cares for her brother left me antsy.

A film, any film, with Colin Firth left me checking how much longer it was going to run.

There were some high hopes for Love Actually, a 2003 movie with more famous British actors than you can shake a stick at: Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Rowan Atkinson. But at over two hours, and with more than half a dozen plots spinning like those old "dishes on sticks" routines from the Ed Sullivan Show, it all sort of crumbles to the floor in the hands of writer/director Richard Curtis.

It's a shame, because Curtis has done this genre well before (Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill, Four Weddings & a Funeral). Lots of those British films that have gotten wide distribution here lately have been thanks to his work.

Curtis follows the same route that several recent movies have done, tackling one subject -- love -- by following the stories of lots of people, all on parallel courses and with occasionally intersecting lives.

He argues, in a voice-over by Grant, that, despite how things may look some days, love really is all around us. We just may have to search harder for it. Curtis visits the arrivals gates of Heathrow Airport in London to prove his point: real-life friends, family and lovers greeting each other with open arms and grateful hearts.

It's a valid point. But Curtis needs about 40 arms to juggle all the plot lines he uses to make his point, and he probably needed only an eighth of them.

That's not to say there aren't some moments worthy of Love Actually's title as the feel-good romantic comedy of the year. Rickman and Thompson, for one, in any one of their scenes together, are worth the rental.

Neeson, as a widower stepfather who's now in charge of a young, lovesick stepson, is wonderful, as are the scenes (not for those who object to partial nudity) of the nude love scene stand-ins who try to hold normal conversations as lighting and sound techs try to prepare a set for the "real" actors. There also are some good tips of the hat to classics like The Graduate.

But Grant, as the new prime minister who apparently hasn't tapped into the fact that he's been elected to make some decisions, is forced to flounder as the bachelor who falls for his foul-mouthed secretary, who is, in turn, fondled by -- gasp! -- the American president, in town for a visit. Very subtle.

But Linney's sort of dropped by the wayside, as are newlywed Knightley and her husband's lovesick best friend. Add in jokes at the expense of fat women, and there are some jarring notes that don't do justice to Curtis's argument of love around us everywhere.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 31 July 2004

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