Love Actually (2003) Universal Pictures/Comedy-Drama RT: 135 minutes Rated R (language, nudity, sexual content, adult situations, mature themes) Director: Richard Curtis Screenplay: Richard Curtis Music: Craig Armstrong Cinematography: Michael Coulter Release date: November 14, 2003 Starring: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Sienna Guillory, Lucia Moniz, Thomas Sangster, Gregor Fisher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Rodrigo Santoro, Kris Marshall, Abdul Salis, Heike Makatsch, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Olivia Olson, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Claudia Schiffer, Nina Sosanya, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Lulu Popplewell, Marcus Brigstocke.
Everybody seems to have romance at the top of their Christmas wish lists in Love Actually, a multi-character comedy/drama in the vein of Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. With a cast composed almost entirely of British actors, the movie tells about ten different romantic stories in the five weeks leading up to Christmas Day. Many of the characters are shown to be interlinked as the movie progresses, yet writer/director Richard Curtis (Pirate Radio) manages to keep things under control and easy for the viewer to follow.
One of the biggest problems that a movie like this faces is traffic control, without the proper supervision, the proceedings could turn into a real mess with neither rhyme nor reason, Curtis handles the movie like a real professional and makes it something truly special. It's really a series of short stories rather than a conventional single plotline, so I'll just briefly mention the various stories in the movie and leave it to you, the viewer, to watch it for yourself and discover the magic within.
1. David (Grant, Notting Hill), the newly elected Prime Minister of England, moves into 10 Downing Street and falls for Natalie (McCutcheon, EastEnders), a junior member of the household staff. Things get complicated when he catches the US President (Thornton, Bad Santa) attempting to seduce the young woman.
2. Aging rock star Billy Mack (Nighy, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) records a Christmas variation of Love Is All Around (The Troggs) that becomes a huge success and his long-awaited comeback hit. He revels in his new found glory while his longtime manager Joe (Fisher, Wild Target) watches from the sidelines.
3. Juliet (Knightley, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) and Peter (Ejiofor, Children of Men) have just gotten married and everybody celebrates their happiness except for the groom's best friend Mark (Lincoln, The Walking Dead). It looks like he doesn't really like Juliet very much as he becomes distant and uncomfortable around her, he barely even speaks to her. Of course, the real reason behind this is the last thing she expects.
4. Jamie (Firth, The King's Speech) discovers that his girlfriend (Guillory, Resident Evil: Apocalypse) has been sleeping with his brother, so he retreats to his French cottage to focus on his writing and ends up falling for Aurelia (Moniz), his Portuguese housekeeper who only speaks in her native tongue and doesn't understand a single word of Engligh. He doesn't understand Portuguese either, so this relationship is complicated from the word "go".
5. Harry (Rickman, Die Hard) and Karen (Thompson, Howards End) have been married for several years and they have two young children who are about to appear in their school's Nativity play. Harry manages a design agency and he finds himself attracted to his new secretary Mia (Makatsch, Resident Evil). He buys her an expensive necklace for Christmas and worries that his wife will discover his secret.
6. Recently widowed Daniel (Neeson, Taken) tries to help his young son Sam (Sangster, Nanny McPhee) win over the girl of his dreams, an American classmate Joanna (Olson) who's performing a song in their school's Christmas pageant. He encourages his son to learn to play the drums so he can accompany her on stage and find an opportunity to tell her how he feels about her.
7. Sarah (Linney, Primal Fear), a busy career woman, has been attracted to the company's creative director Karl (Santoro, 300) for years. She's been reluctant to act on her feelings, especially since her cell phone seems to constantly ring at the most inopportune times. It turns out that there's something in her personal life that makes it difficult to sustain any sort of romantic relationship.
8. Colin (Marshall, Death at a Funeral) has had enough of trying to hook up with British women and decides to take a trip to the US and try his luck with American women. He believes that they will love the fact that he's British and he'll easily find love with an American woman in........Milwaukee, Wisconsin (?!).
9. John (Freeman, Shaun of the Dead) and Judy (Page, From Hell) meet while working as body doubles on the set of a major film. They hold casual conversations while completely naked and simulating sexual acts, that's the easy part! They find it more difficult pursuing a romantic relationship as they are both shy and tentative about it.
10. Although he doesn't really have a story of his own, Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) shows up periodically as a jewelry salesman who plays a minor role in the lives of some of the characters.
It sounds pretty complicated, but you should have no problem following Love Actually and keeping the many characters straight. It's a wonderful and funny romantic comedy that gets a major boost from the very talented all-star cast. How often does one come across a movie that brings together the best actors in British cinema? It's unfortunate that Peter O'Toole (My Favorite Year) didn't show up at some point, it would have really completed the ensemble! There's still plenty of appealing performances here and I'd like to call attention to a few of them. Hugh Grant always brings something nice to the table, his self-effacing persona and his penchant for clever dialogue makes him one of the better actors working in film today. He's at his best in romantic comedies like Notting Hill (1999) and Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), we can add Love Actually to the list. This is one of Keira Knightley's first major movie roles, coming out the same year as Bend It Like Beckham (her first big movie!) and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. She proves beyond any reasonable doubt that she's a very charming and gifted young actress, she's somebody that I always like to see starring in a movie. In a role that has since taken on an eerie foreboding, Liam Neeson is wonderful as a relatively young widower who tries to deal with his own feelings while feeling powerless to help Sam cope with his own problems. In real life, Neeson's wife, Natasha Richardson died after being injured in a skiing accident in '09. That's just too weird! Nighy is hilarious as the aging British rock star whose outrageous behavior never fails to astonish his manager, it's especially hysterical that he thinks his own record is complete rubbish. The Jamie-Aurelia story is very sweet, the idea of a love that transcends a language barrier lends a note of hope for all those who think that they will never meet the right person. Speaking from personal experience, sometimes the right person lives in another part of the world, but the universe is a funny thing and things like fate and destiny have a way of sorting themselves out.
Certain scenes in Love Actually really stand out and make it a Christmas movie to remember. The movie opens and closes at Heathrow Airport as David (in a voiceover) talks about the pure and uncomplicated love that people feel as they greet and welcome their arriving loved ones, the collection of shots of people embracing their loved ones is the perfect way to start this movie, it sets just the right tone. It's also the perfect way to end the movie as it leaves the viewer with a sense of warmth, love and joy. After Peter and Juliet get married, Mark has arranged a special surprise for them as they exit the church, a choir appears in the balcony and bursts into a joyous rendition of All You Need Is Love (The Beatles) and, as the song progresses, musicians rise from among the guests seated in the pews playing their instruments. I'm a real sucker for musical numbers in movies, especially the impromptu kind and this one is positively delightful! Emma Thompson has a very dramatic moment when she realizes what her husband has been doing behind her back. She excuses herself for a moment and goes to the bedroom where she quietly sobs while the rest of the family gets ready for the children's school play. There's also a lovely scene between Mark and Juliet that says a lot with absolutely no spoken dialogue. It would take way too long to list all of the great scenes in this movie, so let me just say that Love Actually is full of great moments, some of them are funny and some are very dramatic. Curtis finds the perfect balance and maintains it throughout the movie, what more can you ask for from a Christmas-themed romantic comedy/drama? You'll laugh, you'll cry and you'll believe in the magic of the Christmas season. Be sure to put this wonderful movie on your Christmas must-watch list!