moviebuff801: Time Capsule Reviews: Love Actually (2003)

Posted: December 24, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: November 7th, 2003

Running Time: 2 hours and 14 minutes

Written by: Richard Curtis

Directed by: Richard Curtis

Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson

The DVD cover of Love Actually proclaims it to be the “ultimate romantic comedy,” and from a story structure standpoint, I’d have to agree.  Never before has a movie featured so many gloriously gooey love stories, and never before (and rarely even after) has one been so damn charming at the same time.  Not only would Love Actually appear on the list of my Favorite Romantic Comedies, it’d also show up on my list of Traditional Christmas Movies.  Allow me a brief moment to make a corny play on words here when I say that I love this movie, actually.

Rather than one main storyline, this film features nine, all of them occurring simultaneously and all of them in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Let’s see, I don’t want to droll on and list all of them (for your benefit, as much as mine), but there’s a recently widowed stepfather (Liam Neeson) who’s just learning to bond with his stepson by way of helping him figure out how to capture the attention of his school crush.  Then, there’s the story of the newly-elected Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who’s “inconveniently” fallen in love with one of his staff members (Martine McCoutcheon) at first sight, as well as a freshly divorced writer (Colin Firth) who’s finding himself quickly falling for his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) who doesn’t speak a word of English.  Meanwhile, there’s a head of a design agency (Alan Rickman) whose marriage to his wife (Emma Thompson) is experiencing a great deal of stress due to a tempting new secretary, and even a pair of stand-ins (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) for movie sex scenes who really hit it off.  And so on and so forth.

Okay, so maybe it’s the fact that I’m a hopeless romantic at heart that explains why I like this movie so much, but I’m not making apologies for such a thing, and the movie itself makes no apologies about it, either.  Any other lover of warm, fuzzy movie romance is bound to be a fan of this movie, too.  Love Actually is nothing more than a celebration of love, and in so doing, writer/director Richard Curtis piles on the cuteness and sentimentality while also using nearly every romantic comedy cliché in the book, but … it all works.  This genre is one of the hardest to get a genuinely good movie out of, so whenever something like Love Actually comes along, I can’t help but give it credit, and something like Love Actually deserves it.

With a cast list that reads like a Who’s Who of famous British actors, there’s a lot of heart and charm that comes out of these performances.  Infused with no shortage of wry British humor, nearly every person that this movie chronicles is likable in some way.  Hugh Grant is actually used well here, unlike the other half-baked and similarly-themed movies he’s done before and after this.  Liam Neeson elicits real sympathy in his role, especially given his own marital tragedy from a few years ago, while Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson effectively capture the more difficult side of relationships.  But my favorite performance and character in the film comes by way of Bill Nighy, who plays an old and smart-ass British rock star whose devil-may-care attitude starts to reinvigorate his career.  Every actor in this movie manages to do the best with what they’re given and in the process, makes us get involved in every storyline.

And seeing as how this film crams in so many story threads, you’d think a few would start to overshadow the others, but not really.  Richard Curtis gives each story the right amount of attention, focusing more on the ones that truly deserve it and popping in and out of the simpler ones enough times so that everything feels pretty well-balanced.  While I do have to question whether or not so many storylines were required, especially one or two that feel like there’s not a whole lot to them when all is said and done, Curtis at least makes sure there’s a nice amount of heart present in each of them.  If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with the one featuring Colin Firth and Lucia Moniz, because the way the two of them are able to stay in sync whilst talking to each other, despite the language barrier, and not even know it is nothing short of charming and entertaining.  But I’m also rather fond of the one with Neeson and his on-screen son, not to mention the way that particular one climaxes.  And I’d be remissed not to mention the sweet and sad story that features Keira Knightley at the center of a love triangle.

Now, you would think that with there being so many stories, the movie would try to bring them all together in some big and convoluted way at the end, but no.  Throughout the film, the characters subtly weave in and out of each other’s stories, which I think is ultimately better than trying to force all the characters into one place.  Oh, that happens, to be sure, but it feels natural.

But I think the thing I admire the most about this movie is how optimistic it is, overall.  Even when it shows how painful love can be sometimes, Love Actually is still of the happy ending mindset.  And, to be honest, I prefer that to the more cynic approach a lot of other films can, and sometimes do, take.  The last thirty minutes, especially, is dripping with optimism and if you don’t crack a single smile or grin at least once during this section or, hell, anywhere else in the movie … then congratulations, because you’re officially a robot.

Love Actually may not necessarily quite be a great romantic film, but it’s still damned good.  Every once in a while, it’s only appropriate to indulge in something sugary sweet that feeds the hopeless romantic inside all of us that’s desperate for some nourishment, and in that respect, Love Actually is quite filling and satisfying.

***1/2 /****

Comments
  1. Ipodman says:

    Liam Neeson on that poster looks very strange… I think now I’m more used to seeing him being all fierce and gritty with a gun in hand :|

  2. […] my reviews of Love Actually and Four Weddings and a Funeral, I think I’ve made my thoughts on writer/director Richard […]

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