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Cast charms in uplifting romantic comedy

Jack Watkins | Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Richard Curtis had never directed a film before making Love Actually, but his writing portfolio is impressive and contains what some consider to be the best modern romantic comedies: Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral.

With credentials like these, it’s not hard to see why he tapped himself for the script to his first film. Nor is it hard to see how he assembled such an impressive cast: the movie features Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Billy Bob Thornton, Shannon Elizabeth, Claudia Schiffer, Rowan Atkinson and Denise Richards. Fortunately Curtis avoids the Gosford Park error of only using each character’s proper name once, and so we are more than capable of telling everyone apart.

Rather than a single plot, the movie is essentially a half dozen or so intertwining stories, with some characters never meeting and some interacting on the fringes of each others subplots. Like other films that have used this technique (think Short Cuts), the stories are united thematically. Naturally, the theme in this case is love, or rather, as we are told in the opening minute, that “love actually is all around”.

With a premise like that, Love Actually could have easily become a sickly-sweet celebration of holiday goodness, but it (narrowly) avoids this fate by not providing happy endings to each story. The overall effect of the film is still, of course, uplifting and inspiring, but with a touch of bitterness mixed in that allows it to approach the level of other great Christmas movies.

I deliberately use the word “approach”. There is one major flaw to Love Actually, which is Curtis’ decision to include a plot about body doubles. In a film that otherwise consists mostly of “cute” or romantic storylines there is one that, while cleverly written, involves a great deal of nudity and feels at odds with the rest of the film. Were it not for these scenes, the film would probably have been rated PG-13 and would be considered “family friendly”. Perhaps in Britain, where the movie is set, these concerns are less significant.

Otherwise, the film is excellent. If no actor stands out, it is because Curtis took no casting risks – everyone plays their type, so that Hugh Grant is charming, Colin Firth is noble, Alan Rickman is dry and sarcastic, etc.

The one exception is probably Rowan Atkinson, who seems to be playing a sort of Christmas angel in disguise. His character, who only appears in two scenes, gives the film one of its most touching moments.

Love Actually probably will not receive much in the way of awards consideration, because the Academy is evidently under the impression that comedies are somehow a lesser form of art than dramas and historical epics. Nevertheless it is quite likely one of the five best mainstream films of the year and quite worth seeing.

Contact Jack Watkins at John.F.Watkins.25@nd.edu