Time: 135 mins.
Richard Curtis devises another lovely romantic confection filled with enough unadulterated charm that even the most diehard pessimist will find renewed hope in the future of the human race. Though ripe with silliness and sentimentality, there's enough bitter wit and utterly embarrassing situations to defuse the sweetness and make you laugh out loud. The film begins 5 weeks before Christmas and gives us a peek at the lives of 8 different couples in every stage of romance: a newly widowed man (Neeson) with a step-son in the throws of first love; the eternally single Prime Minister (Grant); his supposedly happily married sister (Thompson); her husband (Rickman), who's on the verge of an affair with his secretary; his employee (Linney) who has a desperate secret crush on a co-worker; and her friend (Firth) who's trying to get over a broken heart. These are the main stories, as it were, with several other additional subplots inserted mainly for comic relief. The film intertwines each of these characters as they find and lose hope, supposedly on the way to romantic bliss. As we all know, the road to true love is never easy and the experiences included here are ones everyone can relate to.
Curtis has a unique way of turning the most mundane moments into ones of simplicity, grace, honesty and humor. While mostly a comedy, this film, like his other screenwriting ventures (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and NOTTING HILL), is also filled with moments of deep pain and tragic regret, which makes the ensuing laughs all that more powerful. The all-star British cast clearly believes in his vision since they embarrass themselves wholeheartedly in the attempt to convince us that love is all around us...if we just take the time to look. Of course, no one gets out completely unscathed, but the message is quite clear: if you don't take the chance you'll never get the opportunity to win the prize. Firth and Grant are fools for love and get the best laughs for their efforts. Thompson, Neeson and Linney are the ones who learn the film's hardest lesson: how to go on when your heart is broken. Eleven-year-old Thomas Sangster has the enviable task of playing the character we all pin our hopes on, the one striving to make his dream girl notice him. It's his story that drives the film, rekindling our hopes of finding "the One." His performance will make you yearn for those days before love became equated with heartbreak and disappointment.
I found the storylines about Colin (Kris Marshall), a randy bloke who needs to travel to America to get laid and the unrequited love of Mark (Andrew Lincoln) for his best friend's wife, played by Knightley, to be the weakest parts of the film. The stories are cute, but lack the emotional complexity of the other pieces. The scenes between Joanna Page and Martin Freeman, as the film stand-ins who are naked and constantly pretending to have sex, are totally silly and add nothing to the film's message, but are damn amusing nonetheless. There's just something about people talking about traffic woes while simulating sex that tickles the funny bone. My verdict is still out on whether Bill Nighy's raunchy, rock and roll antics are more amusing than annoying. I'm currently leaning towards the latter, though his tweaking of the music business establishment was occasionally wickedly clever. With so many characters, the film gets a little bogged down about two-thirds of the way through as Christmas approaches and all the ends are forced to neatly tie up. That being said, all of the characters get their due attention, which can't have been easy to accomplish. While there's nothing particularly momentous or memorable about what's being said here, LOVE ACTUALLY actually delivers an intelligent, witty, adult good time that will leave you with a smile on your face and a little touch of joy in your heart. This is a film that rejoices in romance, so pessimists beware.