Love Actually

             I so wanted to adore this movie and when I was watching it I found so much to admire.
      Yet in contemplating
LOVE ACTUALLY, it became clear that there were some glaring faults
      that a second viewing confirmed. The film is like a Whitman's Sampler of romantic comedies, which
      may not be such a bad thing, since there's usually something for everyone to enjoy. Not everyone,
      say, is going to like coconut or nougat, but someone might. There are at least nine major plots being
      juggled in the movie, a couple of which could almost be the subject of a full-length feature. (For instance,
      I would have loved to have seen more of the married couple played by Emma Thompson and
      Alan Rickman.)

              Beginning with the underrated
THE TALL GUY and followed by the international success
      of the Oscar-nominated
and BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, Richard Curtis emerged as the foremost British screenwriter
      of romantic comedies. For his directorial debut, Curtis hired many of the actors who had previously
      appeared in those films and even made sly references to
FOUR WEDDINGS in the first ten
      minutes of

              After a brief prologue at Heathrow Airport that manages to bring in the destruction of the
      World Trade Center in Manhattan comes the opening credits, under which we hear a holiday cover
      of the song "Love Is All Around" (which was featured in
FOUR WEDDINGS) being recorded
      by an over-the-hill rock singer (wonderfully played by Bill Nighy). Next there's both a wedding
      and a funeral. All of this is to set up some of the stories we'll follow. The bride and groom (Keira
      Knightly and Chiwetel Ejiofor) don't realize that the best man (Andrew Lincoln) is covering his real
      feelings for the bride. Two people who attend the wedding, writer Jamie (Colin Firth) and American
      Sarah (Laura Linney) will each be featured in their own tale: he will fall for his Portuguese cleaning
      lady (Lucia Moniz), while she will be unable to connect with her handsome co-worker (Rodrigo
      Santoro). The funeral leaves Daniel (Liam Neeson) a widower with a young stepson (Thomas
      Sangster) and the pair must struggle not only with forging a father-son bond, but also with the
      boy's crush on a classmate. Meanwhile, Daniel's friend Karen (Emma Thompson) is experiencing
      marital troubles with her husband (Alan Rickman) who happens to be Sarah's boss and whose
      secretary (Heike Makatsch) makes no secret of her interest in him. Karen's brother is David
      (Hugh Grant), the new Prime Minister who develops a crush on his tea girl Natalie (Martine
      McCutcheon). There are also lesser stories about Colin (Kris Marshall) who believes he only
      can find a girlfriend in the United States, and a totally superfluous couple of film stand-ins shooting
      a nude love scene.

              Clearly Curtis was aspiring to the sort of multiple stories that Robert Altman has made his
      trademark. There's no overlapping dialogue here, though, and some of the tenuous connections of
      the characters feel forced. I also have to question why the writer-director shied away from including
      any same-sex relationships. It's not that the territory is unfamiliar; one of the most memorable
      scenes in
FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL is the eulogy for a gay man delivered by his
      lover. For any film that purports to be an all-encompassing one about all aspects of love, this is a
      glaring omission.

              The film does contain some wonderful performances. It's terrific to see Emma Thompson back
      on the big screen after a hiatus for motherhood and she nearly purloins the film. She and Rickman
      (who have worked together several times on stage and in film) have a terrific chemistry and
      are more than believable as a married couple. Laura Linney is heartbreaking in her part of a young
      woman torn between desire and family loyalty, and hers is perhaps the most bittersweet of the tales.
      Hugh Grant does a fine job as the Prime Minister, particularly in a confrontation with the US President
      (an effective cameo by Billy Bob Thornton). The sweet story of first love that Liam Neeson and
      Thomas Sangster play out is also one of the more memorable ones. I also enjoyed Andrew Lincoln's
      performance, although we don't really get to see why he would be so interested in Keira Knightley's
      Juliet beyond her beauty. There's a nice cameo from Rowan Atkinson as well, while Bill Nighy is
      hilarious as the rocker who finds unexpected pleasure in the company of his long-suffering manager.

              LOVE ACTUALLY, which is set in the weeks prior to Christmas contains some lovely scenic
      shots of London decorated for the holidays. After several storylines converge at a school nativity play,
      the movie comes full circle and ends where it began -- at Heathrow. Like most romantic comedies,
      nearly all the stories are resolved satisfactorily, allowing the audience to head out with a smile. I just
      wish that there had been some tightening; running over two hours, there's just too much.

                              Rating:                        B
                             MPAA rating:              R for sexuality, nudity and language
                              Running time:             135 mins.

                                                   Viewed at Loews 34th Street Theater
© 2006 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved