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With: Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, January Jones, Martin Freeman, Rowan Atkinson, Martine McCutcheon, Andrew Lincoln, Bill Nighy, Chris Marshall, Keira Knightley, Rodrigo Santoro, Billy Bob Thornton, Chjwetel Ejiofor, Denise Richards, Elisha Cuthbert, Ivana Milicevic, Shannon Elizabeth, Thomas Sangster, William Wadham
Written by: Richard Curtis
Directed by: Richard Curtis
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 135
Date: 09/07/2003

Love Actually (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

'Love' Is All Around

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When Hollywood cranks out a new romantic comedy every couple of months, its biggest challenge is finding new ways of keeping the potential lovers apart -- or at each other's throats -- for 90 minutes before bringing them together in love and kisses at the end.

With his new film Love Actually, the clever English screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary) has come up with a most ingenious solution. He simply throws a huge pile of characters at us all at once. None of them is onscreen long enough for stupid plot mechanisms to get in the way.

Curtis also makes his directorial debut here, and his sheer glee is infectious. He's playing us like fiddles, we know he's playing us like fiddles, and he knows that we know, and everyone loves it.

Hugh Grant, a regular in three of Curtis's previous films, plays perhaps the most prominent character, a handsome and popular new Prime Minister who instantly falls in love with one of his new servants, the adorable Martine McCutcheon.

That's not all. Alan Rickman plays an executive in a free trade office whose marriage to Emma Thompson suffers when his sexy secretary Heike Makatsch (Aimée & Jaguar) starts coming onto him. Liam Neeson plays a widower who must re-establish a relationship with his stepson, who has in turn fallen in love with a popular and talented girl at school.

The very hot Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham, Pirates of the Caribbean) also stars as a young bride who finally realizes why her new husband's best friend has been treating her so coldly; he's in love with her too.

Colin Firth (also in Bridget Jones) plays a newly single writer who retreats to a cabin for some peace and quiet and finds himself attracted to his Portuguese helper, despite the fact that neither understands a word the other is saying. (That's three secretary romances; what could Mr. Curtis be trying to say here?)

It goes on, plus the movie abounds in piles of smaller roles and cameos. Curits regular Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean and Blackadder) plays a pivotal role, and Billy Bob Thornton, Denise Richards and Shannon Elizabeth turn up.

Love Actually comes with a wraparound sequence that follows an aging pop star (Bill Nighy) who re-records the Troggs' "Love Is All Around" as a Christmas tune in hopes of gaining the number one slot come Christmas Eve. He pops up from time to time in the media promoting the song and continuously reminding us of how awful it is.

Finally, the film takes in some of London's most breathtaking tourist attractions, if for no other reason than to make everything seem more romantic.

While Curtis has a sharp ear for comic dialogue and can write effortlessly for such diametrically opposed comics as Atkinson and Grant, he also has a weakness for pathos. In Four Weddings and a Funeral, it was an untimely death, and in Notting Hill, it was a wheelchair bound sister.

Here Laura Linney's character must endure a mentally ill brother who calls her cell phone every few minutes with some new demand. Just when she's about to consummate a relationship with her office hottie, she must rush off to the hospital, where Curtis' camera dwells for a bit too long.

Even so, that sequence somehow fits effortlessly into Curtis' grand design. Or perhaps "chaos" would be a better word. The film wildly flings all over the place, like the branches of a Christmas tree with a ferret stuck inside. And yet every moment has that same sweet, sticky flavor. We feel like we're overindulging at a table full of extraordinary sweets. The guilt that follows only enhances our enjoyment.

To that end, the film comes complete with at least five grand climaxes, endings of enormous romantic magnitude in which one of the key players must make some magnificent stand and declare their everlasting, undying love -- all on Christmas Eve, of course, to augment it even more.

I felt like a big sap for enjoying Love Actually so much; I caught myself more than a few times sitting there with a huge, stupid grin on my face. But on the other hand, one would have to be a pretty big scrooge to not like it. Along with Elf, it could be this year's second genuine holiday classic-to-be.

DVD Details: I don't remember this thing being 2 hours and 15 minutes long, which is just unheard of for a romantic comedy. So it's nice to be able to fast-forward through some of the more depressing bits, such as Alan Rickman's near-infidelity and Laura Linney's problem brother. This lovely disc comes with about 38 minutes of deleted scenes; according to writer/director Curtis, the first assembly of the film was over 3 hours long. Strangely, all of the deleted scenes are pretty good. There's also a segment about the film's music and a video by flash-in-the-pan Kelly Clarkson. Finally, we have an amusing commentary track by Curtis, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and the talented young Thomas Sangster, who plays Liam Neeson's stepson. I suspect that just Curtis and Grant could have given us a very funny track, but Curtis occasionally has to coax the quiet Nighy and the shy Sangster to speak up, killing the momentum.

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