Love Actually [retro review]

“American girls would seriously dig me with my cute British accent.”

The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by Richard Curtis and starring Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Keira Knightley

Tagline: The ultimate romantic comedy.

Summary Capsule: Snippets of love, actually, in all the right and wrong places

Lissa’s Rating: [no rating given]

Lissa’s Review: The nature of love is a tricky thing, I guess because so many forms of love exist. I’m sitting here with my fifth attempt of a review of Love Actually, trying to formulate my feelings about this movie. It’s not an easy thing to do.

I guess the easiest way to start is to say “see this movie.” You really should. Love Actually is this year’s British answer to those of us who want a holiday movie but aren’t willing to brave Will Farrell in tights. It’s a nice, fluffy movie about love. It’s not deep and philosophical, but it is intelligent and clever.

A plot synopsis is difficult. Have you ever read The Lilac Bus or The Canterbury Tales? They’re both series of short stories that are vaguely interconnected by taking place in the same small town. The characters each have a “main” plot, but many of them have cameos in other plots as well. That’s the basic idea here. The movie consists of somewhere between eight and ten subplots, depending on how you count them. They’re not plots that could stand alone, but that’s okay because none of them try to do so. There’s a newly elected prime minister that falls for a tea-girl, a guy who’s not thrilled about his best friend’s wedding, a man and his stepson coping with the loss and discovery of true love, a pair of body doubles, a writer who falls for his Portuguese servant despite the language barrier, a couple in a marriage on the rocks, a kid who’s convinced he can get laid in America, a has-been singer looking for a comeback, and a woman who buries her life in work. It’s exhausting and wonderful at the same time.

The cast is as equally varied. No one actor deserves top billing, as there’s no star of this movie. But the cast is largely recognizable: Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightly, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson, Liam Neeson and Bill Nighy, among many others.

There are three categories of things about this movie: things I liked (most of it), things I didn’t like (a few points), and what shocked me (one thing, and it was a good thing).

Things I liked:

  • The acting, with one exception (to be addressed). Thank you, whoever finally got through to Hugh Grant and managed to convince him he can’t just play one character and expect to make a career out of it. Grant is likable and funny in this movie, and almost stole the show. I also have to give props to Liam Neeson, who once he got out of the grieving widower part of his plot did an outstanding job. (He did wonderfully as the grieving widower, too, but see the above note to Hugh Grant.) Laura Linney was also fabulous. But my favorite was Thomas Sangster, who played the stepson. (He also played a young Hitler in the TV movie miniseries, which is kind of disturbing.) He was darling without being nauseating, and I like darling in my holiday movies.
  • The colors and chaos that were presented that really shout “Christmas.” The scenery and atmosphere were wonderful.
  • I loved that Richard Curtis wasn’t afraid to laugh at America. The actor playing the president (I don’t want to say who because it’s worth it for the shock value) just cracked me up, and I really enjoyed seeing a non-American perspective on our country’s policies.
  • The plot lines involving the Prime Minister, the father and stepson, and the overworked woman were very touching and enjoyable. This is not to say that the others weren’t — these just happened to be my favorites.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The one acting exception: Alan Rickman. Normally, I love Alan Rickman, but his delivery here was monochromatic, in a sense. He never said a line in a different tone of voice. Every line had the same rhythm and inflection to it. He wasn’t terrible, but I usually really like him so a disappointing performance really stuck out.
  • I could have done with one or two less plot lines. Not because I got confused — I followed them all pretty well. But I felt like a few of the plot lines suffered from neglect.
  • Okay, Earth to the movie industry. Y’know Martine McCutcheon, who plays Natalie? Um, yeah. She’s NOT fat. She’s not chubby, either. I would love to have her body. So the next time you need a chubby character, find a chubby actress, okay?

What shocked me:

  • The shock came right at the beginning of the movie, in a beautiful speech made by Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister. He was speaking about love, and one of the last lines was, “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge — they were all messages of love.” This was the first time I had heard September 11th addressed in a movie, and I thought it was very tasteful and heartfelt. But it surprised me to even hear it. Hearing it was like a painless slap across the face.

All in all, what I loved the most about this movie is the feeling I left the theater with. I left happy and laughing, and like I’d just come in from the cold and had a nice mug of Godiva hot chocolate. It’s not necessarily nutritious or filling, but it’s just what I wanted.

Kyle’s Rating: It certainly pulled me out of the doldrums!

Kyle’s Review: Love Actually is one of those films that you either have to be prepared for or you have to be at a low point in your life to truly enjoy it. Or so it seems to me. I can’t imagine that if I had gone to see this movie cold, I would have been like “Hey, this is great!” There are close to 10 different plot threads going on here, and while it’s all pretty easy to follow them all along if I had paid full ticket price for a full movie experience I definitely would have been let down, since (let’s face it, fans) 90% of these love stories resolve themselves cleanly, conveniently, and successfully. 100% would have been too mushy, and anything less than 80% or so would have been damaging to the cinematic psyche, especially at Christmas time! Yikes!

Love Actually is really like a little chocolate trifle that you indulge in very rarely and it melts silky smooth in your mouth like nothing else, but then it’s done and even the sense memories are fleeting. It seemed substantial and while you’re glad it was as nice as it was, you wish it could have either lasted longer or there had been more to it. But it’s fine, you have a nice glow in your stomach and a smile on your face as a result, so actually you loved it! Yeah.

Like I said, when I saw Love Actually I was in a bit of a funk. I was sicker than I had been in 20 years; laid out on the couch with fever sweats, no appetite, and the worst sore throat I’ve ever experienced. Yahoo! Health told me it was early symptomatic HIV, which sent me to my doctor who didn’t know what to tell me except that I was negative for strep throat. Still terrified, when I got to the pharmacy to fill my prescriptions I quickly realized that although to my feverish ear I thought the doctor had said he was prescribing a pain killer and some kind of suppressant, what he had actually prescribed was a pain killer and what would be my first ever suppository. Oh yes. Gross Actually, Not Fun Actually, Oh No Actually.

Whatever Actually. You gotta do what you gotta do. It’s the same way with love, actually. When the time seems right and you must act, you must act! Sometimes we forget about that fact and life and love moves on without us.

In Love Actually, plenty of characters realize that finding love can happen, but grabbing a hold on love is a proactive move. You can’t just let love find you and continue to sit back. You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot, cross the yellow brick road, and dance on the head of a pin or a million other mixed metaphors that talk about making sure love doesn’t elude you. Love Actually shows us that we’re most successful and happy when we follow the true paths to love that pop up in front of us, and that sometimes we’ve got to trust the wisdom of those who love us to help us find the way. But just as often, we’ve got to trust our own hearts because they should know when we should act, blessed organs that they are. Basically, you’ll know what’s right when it feels right, even if common sense is telling you something else. Love Actually would have us believe that most everything will work out if we do that. I’d like to think that’s true. I guess we’ll all see together.

I’m writing this a couple days and several degrees of body temperature removed from that fateful and feverish weekend. I’m sorry that I missed a Lakers playoff game (that they won) to sit in a doctor’s office to get treatment for a virus that would eventually (it seems) be defeated by bed rest and Gatorade, but I’m glad that part of my couch rest entertainment was a rental copy of Love Actually. Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth: they’re all great. Alan Rickman is cool as well. Keira Knightley is just smokin’ hot; it’s insanity. There are a ton of cool British actors and actresses in here: all of them plus the great visual style that pleasing to the palate make Love Actually one great little disposable film to enjoy.

I’m not sure how much you’ll get out of rewatching it, once you know how everything turns out, but it is sure worth a viewing if you’re ready for a relaxing little romp around packaged love nests. If you’re looking for better British drama/comedy try About a Boy; if you want better British comedy/action try the television series The Avengers (not the movie, please, please, please). If you just want that fun little reminder that love exists in the world and sometimes it’s easier to find than it seems, check out Love Actually. And don’t use the Internet to self-diagnose: the nurses just laugh at you in the end.

Sue’s Rating: Why yes, there are many sexy, attractive and available women in Wisconsin. Wait. Why are you laughing? Hey! Come back!

Sue’s Review: One year after its release in theaters, I’ve decided that Love Actually is probably going to be one of my personal Christmas classics. It’ll have to be personal because it’s too raunchy to share with my kids, too obscene to watch with my parents and too objectionable to show in polite company. (It’s a darn good thing I have impolite friends, or I’d be truly alone in my little cinematic world.) And this is a shame, because it’s a highly enjoyable movie in a way that certainly isn’t as lowbrow as my last sentence would seem to imply.

Love Actually can be a little confusing until you really get into it, because there are so many plots, subplots, sideplots, low-carb plots, fat plots, skinny plots, lobster plots, plots that ride on bikes… that to fully understand it on first viewing, you really need index cards, an abacus and ideally a background in conversational Portuguese. Every story revolves around the common evolutionary milestones — good and bad — of the relationship game, with a ringside view of all the varieties of love with a nice Christmasy backdrop. (Sort of like the diagram that comes in a quality box of assorted chocolates.) And as things develop you begin to see that the participants in every sub-plot are connected in some way to the participants in the other sub-plots. So everyone is in some way related to everyone else. There are many small midwestern towns like this.

The downside to all this is, as I’ve said, that it’s confusing as all heck. The upside is that somewhere in this tangled mess of snarled story threads, you’re apt to find something… at least someone, that you’ll care about, enjoy and follow. Whether it’s the cute “wee motherless mongrel” with the major crush, the aging rock star, the writer without translator, Hugh “Mr. Prime Minister” Grant, or Colin Frizzle who seeks enlightenment and lots o’ nookie in the great state of Wisconsin, there’s apt to be someone to cheer for.

Beyond any doubt, one of the most powerful and poignant roles is played by Emma Thompson, as a busy mother and loving wife in a stable marriage that suddenly isn’t. If you’ve never known how it feels to have your world ripped out from under you (and I sure hope you haven’t), and you only get three minutes to grieve before you have to pull yourself together, this is as close an approximation as you’re ever likely to see. It was so well done that it still raises the hair on the back of my neck just thinking about it.

This is an adult movie, which is fine. I do wish though that the obscenity and raunchiness that weren’t strictly necessary to the plot had been toned down to a level where this movie could have been appreciated by a much wider audience. For instance, I have major issues with a parent and an eleven-year old boy casually tossing the f-dash-dash-dash word back and forth like a game of catch in the back yard. Of such moments, bonding should not be achieved. There was also much more than a passing nod at the pornography industry… yes admittedly a very strange sort of workplace to meet a prospective significant other, but surely there are other less objectionable and equally bizarre settings that might have been used.

The two most powerful scenes in Love Actually had no dialogue in them at all. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had learned a lesson from that?

And if anyone cares, I really want to find Andrew Lincoln in my stocking this Christmas.

Next on Fox: When Gravity Attacks!

Intermission!

  • There’s never a real explanation about what happens to Colin Firth’s girlfriend?
  • Kiera Knightly has a thing for playing girls named Juliet(te)?
  • The movie starts with a rendition of “Love Is All Around”, the song from Four Weddings and a Funeral?
  • The American president? (Eek!!!!! I’ll give you one hint — it’s neither Bush nor Gore!)
  • Yes, that is Claudia Schiffer.
  • Although Richard Curtis has several movies to his credit as a writer (Bridget Jones, Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Black Adder, Mr. Bean), this is his directorial debut.

Groovy Quotes

Daniel: Well, you know – I thought it might be something worse.
Sam: Worse then the total agony of being in love?
Daniel: Oh. Yeah, you’re right. Total agony.

Karen: You mean there was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?

Colin: American girls would seriously dig me with my cute British accent. Sam: Girls love musicians, don’t they? Even the really weird ones get girlfriends.

Sam: The only thing about romance is that people only get together right at the very end.

Daniel: Tell her that you love her. You’ve got nothing to lose, and you’ll always regret it if you don’t.

Colin: I’m on Shag Highway heading West!

Mark: To me, you are perfect.

Prime Minister: We are a nation of… Harry Potter!

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

Mikey, DJ interviewer: What’s the best shag you’ve ever had?
Billy Mack: Britney Spears. No, only kidding, she was rubbish.

Prime Minister: Love, actually, is all around us.

Billy Mack: Hiya kids, here’s an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star and they give them to you for free!

The Prime Minister: Who do you have to shag around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?

Billy Mack: …so if you believe in Christmas, children, like your uncle Billy does, buy my festering turd of a record.

Sam: By the way, I feel bad. I never asked you how your love life is going.
Daniel: No. As you know, that was a done deal long ago. Unless, of course, Claudia Schiffer calls, in which case I want you out of the house straight away, you wee motherless mongrel.
Sam: Oh?
Daniel: No, no, we’ll want to have sex in every room. Including yours.

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