A review of “Love Actually” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for nudity, sexuality and language

Run Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes

 

 

Every holiday season needs a cloying tonic of a film to offset the end of the year blues. Have I got a movie for you

With heavy-handed platitudes but plenty of cheeky cheer, director Richard Curtis (who penned “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, “Notting Hill”, etc.) spins the concept of love into a giant cotton candy confection; small portions of passion melded into a mosaic of mush.  Gay love, straight love, puppy love, new love and vanishing love; not a love stone left unturned.

A grand ensemble cast re-enacts a six-degrees of separation blizzard of romances in varying stages of maturity.  England’s bachelor Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) takes up residence at 10 Downing Street and is instantly smitten with his dimply social secretary Natalie (Martin McCutcheon).  Shy but sexy scribe James (Colin Firth) is left broken-hearted by his true love (who’s banging his brother on the side), and departs for the south of France to lick his wounds, where he finds himself reluctantly attracted to his Portuguese housekeeper. 

Newlyweds Juliet and Peter (Keira Knightly and Chiwetel Ejiofor) stumble through the thorny intricacies of freshman marriage, while Harry and Karen (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson) navigate the treacherous waters of post-seven-year-itch (his) and a provocative secretary (also his) with more than stenography on her mind.

Sarah (Laura Linney) secretly pines for her sexy co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) at the same time that Daniel (Liam Neeson) pines for his dead wife and struggles to forge a bond with his 10-year old stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster), who confesses to an undying love of his own. Redundant pop star Billy Mack (hilarious show-stopper Bill Nighy) strives for a last-gasp comeback by singing about love, holiday style (a la a crappy remake of “Love is All Around”). All this in the five weeks leading up to Christmas.

The critic in me can’t help but compile a laundry list of sins, from the spotty pacing to the snappy but irksome soundtrack consisting of a relentless string of contemporary hip-list tunes. “Love” falls short at the inevitable comparisons to the all-but-perfect “Four Weddings” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”, relying on its fast-paced energy and rah-rah-go-love gusto to ride herd over the rough spots.

That said, the fact is I smiled throughout, charmed by the stories’ feel-good rhythms and the warm-and-fuzzy nature of love in all its quirky manifestations.  The countdown to Christmas lends the relationships a pleasing sense of urgency; of something lovely and quixotic lurking just around the corner.

London is smashing done up in her Christmas finery.  Curtis throws all of his snowballs into the air at once, juggling them with confident bonhomie. The writer side of him has the good sense to tie up most of his vignettes in tidy festive ribbons, letting a couple of strays run their natural course.  In the words of our narrating raconteur, “Love is always there, love actually IS all around”. I’m damn near convinced.