Love Actually

Love ActuallySynopsis: Love Actually is the ultimate romantic comedy from the makers of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Notting Hill. Funny, irresistible and heartwarming, an all-star cast (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth and Emma Thompson, to name a few!) will take you on a breathtaking tour of love’s delightful twists and turns. Fall under the spell of Love Actually and share the laughs and charm again and again.
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Love Actually 8.25

eyelights: Bill Nighy. Emma Thompson. Hugh Grant. Liam Neeson.
eyesores: Rodrigo Santoro.

Yes, it’s called ‘Love Actually’. No, it’s not just a “chick flick” – so stop gagging already.

Actually, ‘Love Actually’ is a multi-story piece about love on multiple levels: romantic, familial, parental, sex, friendship and so forth. It offers short snippets of each dynamic and manages to tie a number of them together, sometimes effortlessly, sometimes with lazy contrivances.

Throughout, it manages to keep the proceedings interesting by staggering the various genres instead of giving us a one-tone love letter: where one tale is goofy, another is crude, the other sweet, or dramatic, or romantic, or sad – and they frequently morph tonally as they develop.

Sam: “Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

Liam Neeson’s tale, for instance, begins on a somber note. Having just lost the love of his life, he is left bereft with his stepson, who has completely withdrawn. Unsure what to do about it, he confronts the boy – only to discover that his heart aches in ways he hadn’t expected.

While I didn’t find the kid realistic, he nonetheless served up a solid performance – he made you want to go “aaaaaawwww”. What was fun about this bit were the candid exchanges between the grown man and his young charge, which were sometimes unexpected and frequently hilarious.

But what really got me was the haunted look on Neeson’s face as he carried his wife’s casket out of the church. It’s a total Oscar clip, and he would no doubt have been nominated if the rest of his portrayal had been nearly as intense (evidently, it is not his fault if the character lightened up, I’m just sayin’…).

Prime Minister: “Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?”

Surprisingly, Hugh Grant’s turn as the newly-elected British PM was a show-stopper: his delivery of the down-to-earth, off-the-cuff, political black sheep was as credible as it was rip-roaring. Here he retained the prototypical neurotic Grant archetype, but imbued him with more confidence than usual.

As he collides with his new assistant, Natalie, an equally nervy but congenial young woman, he finds his work completely sidelined with thoughts of her. What makes it work is that Grant plays it straight: even when he gets into a ridiculously clichéd choreographed number, he finds a way of making it droll but likely.

(I must note that I watched ‘Love Actually’ in the company of a Hugh Grant-hater, and he was quite impressed with him. He even got through the musical interlude unscathed – and he despises musicals perhaps even more than I do. So kudos to Grant for making a semi-convert out of him in the face of two huge impediments).

Meanwhile, Martine McCutcheon brings a natural touch to Natalie that makes her extremely charming and disarming; one can’t help but find her sweet, and it’s no wonder that the newly-minted PM can barely keep his mind off of her. As for the oft-repeated comments about her size or weight, they are ridiculous: while not rake-thin (as if this were a plus anyway), she is stunning.

Karen: “Tell me, if you were in my position, what would you do?”

Emma Thompson’s story plays to her strengths by giving her meaty drama to sink her teeth into. At first playing mostly back-up to Liam Neeson and Hugh Grant (as the friend and sibling, respectively), she is soon thrown into a difficult situation with her husband, as played with utter smugness by Alan Rickman.

The scene in which she steps away from the family gift-exchange to regain her composure is a phenomenal one: you can feel the character swallowing back the tears and trying to vent the pain at least temporarily, just enough so that she may get through the next few hours. It’s brilliant, and heart-wrenching.

Alan Rickman, meanwhile, plays the detached family man and consummate professional who loses sight of his responsibilities when his office assistant begins to flirt with him. At first extremely cautious, he eventually falters, being utterly sucker-punched by Mia’s insistent, unwavering approaches. Unlike Grant’s PM, he doesn’t make the correct -but difficult- decision in order to get through it.

Juliet: “I look quite pretty.”

While this is Mark’s story, I was left unconvinced by Andrew Lincoln’s portrayal of the groom’s best buddy. He plays up the discomfort with his buddy’s bride adequately, but I didn’t find it nuanced enough to feel quite right – he was either exuberant with his buddy, emotionless around Juliet, and then jittery and rude when left alone with her.

The story itself, didn’t move me in any way, to start with. I couldn’t at all understand Juliet’s appeal, as incarnated by Keira Knightley. She was as vacuous as the segment was emotionally vacant. And while she has a pretty face, her unusually thin frame was quite appalling. Let’s just say that I’m glad that movie stars like her likely are the cause of much body dismorphia.

Bill Mack: “So if you believe in Father Christmas, children, like your Uncle Billy does, buy my festering turd of a record. And particularly enjoy the incredible crassness of the moment when we try to squeeze an extra syllable into the fourth line.”

Without a doubt, one of the standout bits of the whole picture is the story of aging rock star Billy Mack, as played by Bill Nighy. An unapologetic, crude individual, Mack is forced to re-record an old hit of his as a Christmas single in the faint hope that it might be a commercial hit – and a much-needed boost to his lagging fortunes.

Much to the consternation of his manager, Mack can’t help himself but to make these intentions clear even while in public. And not only that, he actually criticizes his own recording, mocking it and cursing it whenever giving the chance. Thankfully for him, and much to everyone’s surprise, he becomes an underdog sensation.

This particular story is about the long-standing, and frequently frustrating, relationship between the rock musician and his ever-patient manager. Despite the many lows, which include many personal follies on the part of Mack, they have kept close ties through it all and are actually the best of friends. It’s a touching segment.

Aurelia: “I will miss you. And your very slow typing… and your very bad driving.”

Colin Firth’s bit is one of the laggards in ‘Love Actually’. While it’s cute in some fashion, especially in the way that he and his maid respond to what the other is saying without actually speaking the same language (or even understanding each other), it felt a bit flat and unconvincing. I didn’t get involved emotionally at any point.

The key problem is the language barrier: it limits the realism of their budding romance. Since they know absolutely nothing about each other, what is the connection? To me, it seemed as though he was just on the rebound, clinging to the first pleasant woman he could lay his eyes on, but I didn’t see the appeal or feel any fires burning from either side.

Harry: “Invite him out for a drink and then, after about twenty minutes, casually drop into the conversation the fact that you’d like to marry him and have lots of sex and babies.”

Laura Linney plays an American expatriate who has pined over one of her British colleagues for almost as long as she’s worked there. Her key problem is shyness, but she also is constantly interrupted by phone calls from someone close, someone who ties her down and prevents her from connecting with others in the way that she would want.

My problem with this bit is threefold:

1) Firstly, the segment is frustrating because we see how she simply cannot take flight; her responsibilities keep her grounded at all times.

2) Secondly, her paramour (as played by Rodrigo Santoro), is a flavourless pretty boy – he has no personality, no spark and is the epitome of dullness. Granted, he looks incredibly good, but there is no heat between them at all. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t taking advantage of her when he finally decided to woo her – until then, he showed zero interest. Or any discernible human emotion, really.

3) While Laura Linney is attractive, her counterpart is basically a chiseled model. Had her character shown any attributes that would make her appealing to anyone, I could understand why this disparity would make sense. Unfortunately, since Sarah stands out in no way whatsoever, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would be drawn to her when he likely can get any pretty girl he wants. What makes her special? Seriously, I’d sure like to know.

So, ultimately, even though Laura Linney is excellent here, her segment crumbles apart on too many levels. If only they had cast her with someone charismatic at least this would have made up for everything else. But Santoro totally douses any potential flames with ice water.

John: “I might get a shag at last!”

This bit with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page is a one-note joke, but it was a great gag that kept giving. The pair actually meet on the set of a picture, as stand-ins – but for love-making sequences. Hilariously, they have to remain in various compromising positions together, so they spend the whole time casually chit-chatting and getting to know each other.

There’s not much to it, because we mostly see them on set. Still, it’s funny enough that it elicits laughs every time that we see them in a new, gradually more embarrassing position. It also helps that it’s Martin Freeman, who can play straight but also be funny concurrently – he can steal any scene that he’s in with relative ease.

Colin: “I am Colin. God of Sex. I’m just on the wrong continent, that’s all.”

Then there’s the story of Colin, whom I would like to rename Goofy Dickweed. This is a guy who keeps bragging to his best friend that he would get a lot more girls if he went to the States, thinking that his accent would be enough to make them swoon. Obviously, his friend tries to bring him to reason, but there’s no doing.

This is by far the most caricatured sequence of the bunch and it’s sort of funny in a predictable way. Kris Marshall is perfect for the part because he effortlessly sounds like a braggart whose convictions are rooted it complete nonsense; he sounds like a goof and he looks like a total dick. But he may actually be on to something…

It all comes together with a book-ending sequence at the airport, bringing almost all of the characters together under one roof at one time. It’s a loose connection, but the whole point was made in the opening narration by Hugh Grant – the intention being to illustrate that love is all around us. In the shadow of the World Trade Centre attacks, only two years prior, it was a message worth delivering.

Unfortunately, the ending strikes me as too sweet for its own good. While the rest of the film tends to be realistic to some degree, it falters in the last act in trying to wrap up each segment… and does so without skipping a convention. There’s lots of kissing and pairing up, and even the most dramatic plot points are given a polish to provide for a more agreeable closing. to me, this weakens the film somewhat.

Still, ‘Love Actually’ is likely going to have more staying power than most other films about Love. For one, it connects many characters, dynamics and types of emotional connections together in one fell swoop, making the film relatable to a broader spectrum in the process. Secondly, it’s populated with intelligence, humour and hope – a combination sorely lacking in many films of its ilk. ‘Love Actually’ is, actually, a lovely film.

Date of viewing: December 25, 2012

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