Mark Reviews Movies

LOVE ACTUALLY

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Richard Curtis

Cast: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Thomas Sangster, Martine McCutcheon, Lúcia Moniz, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Heike Makatsch

MPAA Rating:  (for sexuality, nudity and language)

Running Time: 2:15

Release Date: 11/7/03 (limited); 11/14/03 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

I could easily write off my complete distaste for the saccharine, lovey-dovey nature of Love Actually to the fact that I'm simply a young, cynical curmudgeon with no taste for the romantic, but the fact is I like to think of myself as a romantic. A romantic realist, perhaps, but a romantic nonetheless. No, the problem is the movie itself, which wants so badly to prove that love is all around us that it takes its audience for dupes—gushy, sentimental dupes. There's just about every kind of love and love issue that one can think of here: puppy love, unrequited love, love on the rocks, office love, screen love, the loss of true love, and other ones that are harder to describe in short terms. Writer/director Richard Curtis repeats and reiterates these themes to the point that it's just as redundant as saying that someone repeats and reiterates in the same statement. On top of it all, he interconnects each and every one of these stories in ways that abandon any attempt to be convincing just to prove the point again. It's an all-out love feast but such an obvious one that it comes off as nothing but insincere.

A collection of interlocked stories makes up the overloaded string of subplots established as plot. Britain's new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) finds himself needing to take on international relations matters left unresolved by the last administration, but more importantly, he is attracted to his personal assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) and cannot bring himself to tell her. Harry (Alan Rickman) tries to deal with his coworker Mia's (Heike Makatsch) flirting and the strain it is putting on his marriage with Karen (Emma Thompson). All the while, he is also trying to ignite an office romance between his secretary Sarah (Laura Linney) and the man she's had a crush on since she started working. On the more depressing side, Daniel (Liam Neeson) just lost his wife and is left to raise his young stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster), who is getting his first taste of love, on his own, and Jamie (Colin Firth) is an author who has just discovered his girlfriend's cheating ways and moves to France to write and fall in love with his Portuguese maid Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz). There are many more, but most are expendable.

It apparently isn't enough that these stories be connected thematically, and Curtis insists on finding a way to make every one of these characters linked so that the plotlines are more tangibly related. The concept is spread thin early on when we begin to realize that the device is simply shoving the theme of unity down our throats. Karen and the Prime Minister are brother and sister, and she's friends with Daniel. Everyone else is somehow connected by six degrees of separation, which leads to an insanely unlikely moment when everyone in the movie attends a grade school Christmas show because, of course, they know someone who knows someone whose kid is performing (I know I always feel obligated to see when a friend of an acquaintance's kid is playing the drums at a talent show). The relationships seem to come out of nowhere and are too annoyingly cloying to justify their ultimate purpose. On an even more basic level, though, it just gets in the way. Instead of appreciating these stories on their own merits, we exert too much energy trying to figure out how people are connected and why any effort is wasted connecting them in the first place.

This wouldn't be a huge sin if these stories were involving, but that's where the main problem lies in the first place. There are just so many plots running through the movie that they all start to feel extraneous, and Nick Moore's editing helps even less, spreading the space in between updates on each story so widely that no connections can be made even to the more significant ones. The Prime Minister's attraction to his employee is resolved in a typical scene in which he must hunt her down by going house by house, and why Curtis takes a huge pause in the proceedings just to get a few obvious (albeit slightly amusing) political knocks at the current administrations of Great Britain and the United States is a mystery. The consummation of Sarah's office crush is unnecessarily delayed by introducing a mentally ill brother, who exists for the sole purpose of serving as a complication. All of the stories have a cutesy, formulaic romantic comedy vibe that imposes itself on us, save Harry and Karen's disenchanted marriage affected by an affair, and we cling to that story simply for the fact that it's different from the rest.

Love Actually doesn't take any time with its stock characters, leaving us with no real connections. The love stories that work or stick with you are the ones in which two characters who we come to know and care about find each other. Two individuals with their own hopes and fears sharing those feelings and finding a common ground on which to base a future—that's what love actually is. There's none of it here.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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