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Love Actually is quite a mess, actually...

Nov 2, 2003 (Updated Feb 24, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Thomas Sangster, and a couple of body doubles :)

Cons:Hugh Grant (though funny, bumbling, and charming as usual) as the Prime Minister of England?

The Bottom Line: If you must see this now, bring a pen and paper to connect the dots...

- not that it matters, actually

This lengthy movie review is something of a mess – it might be difficult to follow what’s been written here, and you may find yourself lost for long stretches. This style, actually, is by design of the author, and this review is probably best understood if you put a slightly dazed expression on your face, smile somewhat unconvincingly, and carefully read this in the charming yet confused narrative voice of Hugh Grant…

I’ve been to London four times in my life – actually, this is not quite true – I’ve been in London’s Heathrow Airport four times, twice divided into the Arrivals and Departures categories. My first visit was in the pre-improvement era; in 1987, Heathrow Airport was a tangled mass of cramped waiting rooms, skinny hallways and nasty orange building materials left over from the late sixties. In 1999, and to this day, Heathrow Airport is a sprawling mass of spacious waiting rooms, vast hallways and soothing colors designed to help you keep your calm as you rush to your next connection, finally realizing that daily exercise might have come in handy in a situation such as this, where you might have been better off catching a commuter flight to your next plane, rather than having to run marathon distances encumbered by twelve Darty bags filled with tacky French souvenirs.

If you wish to study the human condition, Heathrow Airport could be your nirvana; many thousands of people from every corner of the planet pass through this enormous aorta of aviation, each one with a life story full of triumphs and failures, passion and unrequited love – actually, while this may be true, it’s only my excuse for a segue into the opening moments of Love Actually shot in Heathrow Airport. Love Actually is a strangely compelling, amusing yet confusing, befuddled mass of collected sketches on the aspects of love starring lots of famous actors, most of them exuding the special air of desperation given off by travelers dashing through Heathrow trying to make their connecting flight.

You’ll need some help making sense of this flight plan – here’s a navigation guide for Love Actually:

(Flight Connection #1) Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) has charmingly fallen in love, in a charming and bumbling manner, with 10 Downing Street Staff Member (Martine McCutcheon) whose family lives in the dodgy end of Wadsworth at 101 Harris, which is next door to

(Flight Connection #2) 100 Harris which is the home of Sexy Secretary (Heike Makatsch) who wants to seduce her

(Flight Connection #3) Tempted Boss (Alan Rickman) who is considering love away from his Suspicious Wife (Emma Thompson), while Their Daughter (Lulu Popplewell) will perform as the lobster, present at the Nativity, in her school’s Christmas play held in the auditorium

(Flight Connection #4) just around the corner from Harris Street. Said production features

(Layover #1) an inadvertent public display of affection between Prime Minister and Staff Member, and the adoring public will love it, because

(Flight Connection #5) Prime Minister has recently given charming cad American President (Billy Bob Thornton) a verbal b*tchslapping over foreign policy in a joint press conference, a newsworthy event only eclipsed by

(Flight Connection #6) brutally honest revelations by Rock Has-Been (Bill Nighy) - which incidentally, are scaring his Lifelong Manager (Gregor Fisher) - and whose crappy Christmas comeback effort, complete with cavorting cuties think Robert Palmer video, results in a media frenzy and

(Flight Connection #7) a celebratory party hosted at posh river front art gallery, attended by

(Flight Connections #8a, 8b and 8c) Tempted Boss, Suspicious Wife, Sexy Secretary, and also attended by two other employees of Tempted Boss -

(Flight Connections #9 and 10) namely, At Wit’s End Because Of Tear Jerking Real Life Tragedy Situation And Badly In Need of Proper Shag (Laura Linney) with Hunky Biding His Time Until She Needs Him Co-Worker (Rodrigo Santoro).

(Flight Connection #11) Art Gallery Owner (Andrew Lincoln) shows up on the doorstep of his best friend and recently married Lucky Bastard (Chiwetel Eijofor) to throw cue cards Bob Dylan style at the feet of the increasingly perplexed yet extremely beautiful “IT Girl” Bride (Keira Knightely) – all three of whom are

(Flight Connection #12) the beautiful people friends of Contractually Required To Appear In Romantic British Comedies And Cast Here As Recently Jilted Writer (Colin Firth) who studies Portugese then impulsively abandons

(Layover #2) his family on the doorstep of their home on Harris Street just prior to

(Layover #3) his niece’s school Christmas play to catch a flight to Portugal so he can propose to the lovely, and subtitled, Cleaning Lady (Lucia Moniz) he fell in love with while escaping to Provence to leave his love life problems behind, giving him the time to (plot device) type his latest novel. Cleaning Lady and Jilted Writer

(Flight Connection #13) meet the beautiful people at a nameless gate in Heathrow Airport, where

(Flight Connection #14) Recently Motherless Son (Thomas Sangster), who has poignantly hilarious dialogue with his Recently Widowed Step Father (Liam Neeson), has been trying to chase down and say goodbye to his First Love (Olivia Olson) (a singer who performed at her

(Layover #4) school’s Christmas play earlier that evening and for which performance Recently Motherless Son taught himself to play drums in effort to win her heart) whom he was able to

(Flight Connection #14 again) follow past airport security thanks to the aid of the inexplicably well-timed appearance of pinstriped Department Store Salesman (Rowan Atkinson) who

(Flight Connection #15) sold and S L O W L Y gift wrapped a gold necklace, purchased by Tempted Boss for Sexy Secretary, which was found, before being gifted, by Suspicious Wife who

(Flight Connection #15) has coffee, serious conversation, and tangible chemistry with Recently Widowed Step Father, and who just happens to be the sister of the

(Flight Connection #16) recently elected Prime Minister who, in a charming and bumbling manner, has fallen in love…well, you know that part already, and you’d only find your way back to this point again if I started all this again, so we’ll skip to

(Flight Connection #17) Wisconsin, where Annoyingly Optimistic Sandwich Server (Kris Marshall), who

(Layover #5) worked as a waiter at the wedding reception of Lucky Bastard and “IT Girl” Bride, and, believing that American bars are full of wild willing women who want to help him empty his backpack of the thousands of condoms he’s packed in hopeful expectation, finds himself

(Flight Connection #17 again) in a Milwaukee bar, surrounded by American Dreamgirl (Ilana Milicevic) American Angel (January Jones) and American Goddess (Elisha Cuthbert), who turn out to be both wild and willing AND well acquainted with Harriet, the Sexy One (Shannon Elizabeth) who returns to

(Flight Connection #18) Heathrow Airport with Sandwich Server and a present for his Skeptical Buddy (Only Name I Couldn’t Figure Out) - the present is Carla, the Real Friendly One (Denise Richards), all three of whom exit their commercial flight just ahead of

(now arriving at gate #19) the Prime Minister…

only, not in that order… actually...

(If you’ve read everything to this point, you are either a literary masochist, Jack Sommersby or both…)

Love Actually is not so much a film, as it is a collection of ideas for films which may or may not have actually made interesting films individually. Richard Curtis, as the film’s screenwriter, certainly knows how to create some interesting characters and situations, and he proved it to great success with previous films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Nottting Hill, and Bridget Jones’ Diary. But Curtis also made his directorial debut with Love Actually, and I’m not convinced he knew exactly what to do with all of his ideas. All of the sketches are based in comedy, but a few of them come very close to drama, pathos or overblown romance, in no particular order. These sketches might have been better suited to a prolonged season of Masterpiece Theater – telling each individual story in hour long episodes, and slowly unveiling the connections between them all in two or three final episodes.

Tales are told of how the Beatles cut up a bunch of audio tape one evening, threw the pieces into the air, and reassembled the pieces into tape loops, eventually producing the strange sounds of Revolution #9. I have to assume that a similar tactic was used to edit Love Actually. For the first third of the film, you get clues as to how people are related, there are some good laughs, and a couple interesting characters are introduced. Once you seem to have a grip on plot points, the odd editing comes back and bites you in the butt – when this movie goes to DVD, I hope there is a director’s “cut” that allows you to splice the scenes in any order you wish, just so I can have a go at making a better movie than Curtis.

I’d like to make a few other points here, so switch your narrative voice to Colin Firth – he and Grant have faced off over the girl enough times for Firth to convey the proper level of disbelief for the following observation:

In this movie, London is not, actually, real – I’m not sure I could ever trust a populace that has elected Hugh Grant as Prime Minister. Real London’s real Hugh Grant is all about –

Hugh Grant, charming cad. Everyone needs one charming cad in his or her life, and he’s perfect for the job. No problems with that role…

Hugh Grant, charming romantic lead. Along with certain other contractually obligated actors, he is the Pride of the BBC, Merchant and Ivory. Top notch all round…

Hugh Grant, charming bumbling mumbler. Nice work if you can get it…

Hugh Grant, charming reincarnation of Cary Grant. Not a bad comparison to have made about oneself and a fair one at that. This, too, I can handle…

London is not Hugh Grant, Prime Minister. In the “let’s turn the tables on Notting Hill’s premise and throw in Bridget Jones’ heavy thighs for good measure” sketch, Hugh Grant is the charming PM bumbling his way through his first few weeks in office whilst trying to comprehend fat jokes being made by his staff at expense of the pretty and competent staff member he is obviously pre-destined to fall madly in love with in a charming bumbling manner, whilst charming the country with a suddenly aggressive stance toward American foreign policy embodied by charming cad of visiting American president (Billy Bob Thornton in a perfectly cast cameo). It’s a load of codswallop if you ask me…

I’ve never been to a wedding where half the guests were fully rehearsed, instrument-toting musicians, ready to break into song in true Bollywood style, all to serenade the happy couple as they leave the wedding chapel. In the “let’s see if we can top what we did in Four Weddings and a Funeral” sketch, the extremely radiant bride (Keira Knightley who lights up the screen just by smiling) is increasingly perplexed by the behavior of her husband’s (Chiwetel Eijofor) best man/best friend (Andrew Lincoln) who at first glance, actually, seems to be jealous of her coming between him and his friend. I’ve also never had anyone show up on my doorstep Christmas Eve to throw cue cards at me Bob Dylan style in a charming attempt to explain the real reason for his perplexing behavior.

The other stories are not badly written, just oddly thrown together. The better performances of the movie are the somewhat dramatic ones – Laura Linney is the best of all as a woman with a mentally challenged brother she must care for, though she wants nothing more than to turn her back on her brother and pursue her long ignored love life with a handsome co-worker. Emma Thompson is very good in a couple scenes where she must forcibly hide her distraught emotional state in order to be the good wife or mother. Thomas Sangster may be the real find of this film – though he must be all of ten years old, Thomas brings a mature cynicism to his role as the son who has just lost his mother, and must now learn to relate to his step-father, played competently by Liam Neeson.

Some of the characters feel real, others straddle the line between fantasy and reality, while one in particular is mysteriously and very obviously caught between the screen and the cutting room floor. Rowan Atkinson, a long time collaborator with Richard Curtis (most notably, the Black Adder series’, and Mr. Bean) appears in a funny bit as the jewelry salesman at an upscale department store, perplexing the nervous boss, played by Alan Rickman. If it were Atkinson’s only appearance in the film, it would appear to be a wasted cameo, as it is a small part that doesn’t make full use of his very silly abilities – BUT - Rowan returns later in the film to perplex a security guard at Heathrow, an act that appears to be solely for the benefit of young Thomas who wants to get past security to say goodbye to his first love. Combining this act with the fact that his S L O W gift wrap causes the suspicious wife to suspect and ultimately discover the hidden gift of the necklace, I have to wonder if Atkinson’s character had a much wider role, perhaps as some sort of Cupid(?) or other such guardian of Love… anyway, it’s a strange edit yet again – the airport appearance makes no sense.

There is one story I have deliberately left out for you to discover, because both my wife and I thought that it was quite funny and touching (more touching than you'll ever know, unless you go see the movie).

Heathrow Airport can be an exhausting place – and this review is nearly as exhasusting. There is so much in this movie to discuss, and there is even more I could talk about, but I should leave something for you to discover about the film, or more accurately, the DVD or video, which you should rent when it is released. There are many funny moments in the movie, there are a lot of somewhat interesting characters, plus a few good ones, and Hugh and Colin are always good for ticket sales in the States. Keira Knightley is very easy on the eyes, more so when she smiles, and some will want to take a gander at Shannon Elizabeth and Denise Richards no matter how small their roles in any movie. But, overall, Love Actually turns out to be a tangled mass of complicated plot points and seriously stretched connections that will test the patience of many moviegoers – actually, that is one trip I don’t recommend for anyone.

Recommend this product? No

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