Love Actually

You’ve heard the expression “Less is more”? Richard Curtis obviously hasn’t. Here he’s created a gargantuan romantic comedy that juggles almost a dozen relationships, half of which should have been cut and none that are fully realised. This is a recipe for disaster, yet the movie is actually enjoyable in spite of it all. It’s a mess, but a lovable mess.

It’s five weeks before Christmas, and England has just elected a new Prime Minister, played irresistibly by Hugh Grant. He’s not been in post ten minutes that he meets and instantly falls in love with the tea girl (Martine McCutcheon), which is “so inconvenient” when you have to run a country. Meanwhile, has-been rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) has recorded yet another crappy single, a crappy single that turns one of his old crappy singles into a Christmas-themed crappy single at that. He’s unhappy about it so he starts Bulworthing through his promotional appearances. Then in a London office, the boss (Alan Rickman) is contemplating cheating on his devoted wife (Emma Thompson) with his slutty secretary while his assistant (Laura Linney) is struggling to finally make a move on a co-worker she’s secretly loved for two years and seven months.

You think we’re done? Not even close! There’s also Liam Neeson as a recently widowed lad who helps his son be noticed by a pretty American schoolmate, Colin Firth as a writer who feels a connection with his Portuguese maid even though she doesn’t know a lick of English, then there’s a guy and a girl who grow closer while they work as stand-ins on a porno shoot, a dude who wants to go to the US because he’s convinced that American babes will wet themselves over his British accent, another bloke who’s deep in unrequited love with his best friend’s new wife (Keira Knightley) even though she’s just skin and bones…

Less is more, Richard! But no, Mr. Curtis is determined to make the mother of all romantic comedies, cramming every romantic cliché, cheap gag and emotional effusion he can fit into a bloated 129 minutes then drowning it all with an overbearing score and Christmas cheer. And still we remain affectionate towards this big mess of love, because for every scene that falls flat there’s another that just kills: the airport arrivals bookends, a wedding chapel performance of All You Need Is Love, Billy Bob Thornton’s cameo as the President of the US of A, regular helpings of gratuitous nudity…

Too bad Curtis didn’t stick with what worked and save the dull patches for the DVD deleted scenes section. As is, “Love Actually” is scattered and uneven as hell and even the best moments would haven been more effective if they had more room to breathe. Upon close inspection you realise that none of the characters are more than hastily sketched. It’s only through the talent and charisma of actors like Grant, Rickman, Thompson, Neeson and Linney that their characters become endearing, funny and moving. Alas, stick-figure Knightley, the Portuguese girl, the blank-eyed dope Linney is incomprehensibly infatuated with and others are dull, and so are their thankfully limited parts.

There is truth to Movie Poop Shoot’s Jeff Wells’ comment that a lot of the film registers as “Hormones Actually” or even “Cheating Actually”. I can’t really think of any manifestation of love included here that isn’t superficial and/or contrived, but depth and subtlety isn’t what this movie is about. It’s about movie-love, the kind of foolish grand romantic gestures that only happen in movies… This shouldn’t work, it’s so obvious and unconvincing and overdone, yet I have to admit that the damn movie got to me and extracted many “happy tears” from me. I guess this warrants a recommendation, at least for not too discriminating softies like myself.