Love Actually

2003, Movie, R, 128 mins


If you want to be cynical, you can take the measure of this ensemble film by its weakest elements. The sappy opening narration, insufferable child actor Thomas Sangster and the overlong running gag about a pair of movie stand-ins going through the increasingly naked and explicit motions of blocking a very steamy sex scene while making shy, getting-to-know you small talk come to mind. But why be churlish when so many fine actors are committing their considerable talents to a generally sharply crafted series of interconnected stories that illustrate love in all its forms — rapturous, unrequited, selfish, fledgling, duplicitous, foolish and imperiled — and sets them all awhirl in the weeks before Christmas? The newly elected prime minister (Hugh Grant) falls inconveniently in love with Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a common and slightly plump girl at the bottom rung of 10 Downing Street's household staff. Blissful newlyweds Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Keira Knightley) can't figure out why Peter's best friend, artist Mark (Andrew Lincoln), treats Juliet like sour milk. Cuckolded during Peter and Juliet's wedding, mystery novelist Jamie (Colin Firth) falls for the Portuguese cleaning lady (Lucia Moniz) at his French retreat, even though they don't share one word of a common language. Mark's friend Mia (Heike Makatsch) is hell-bent on seducing her boss, Harry (Alan Rickman), and sees the company Christmas party — which she arranges at Mark's gallery — as the perfect opportunity. Harry's wife, Karen (Emma Thompson), the PM's sister, suspects her marriage is cooling but doesn't know why. Harry encourages employee Sarah (Laura Linney), who's been nursing a not-so-secret crush on handsome officemate Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), to make a move, but she puts self-abnegating responsibility to her demanding, mentally ill brother first. Newly widowed Daniel (Liam Neeson), Karen's best friend, tries to help his 11-year-old stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), navigate the choppy waters of puppy love. And the background to all their entanglements is forgotten '70s pop star Billy Mack's (Bill Nighy) comeback bid, which involves reworking a treacly love song into an even sappier Christmas song and conducting his obligatory promotional campaign with rudely refreshing irreverence. Sentimental? To be sure. Contrived? That too. Overstuffed? Indeed. But FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL screenwriter Richard Curtis's directing debut is frequently funny, generally fizzy and occasionally piercingly perceptive about the price love exacts. And it gives underrated character actor Nighy the role of a lifetime in the fatuous, self-centered and secretly sentimental Mack, which alone is reason to celebrate. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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