Feel-good schmaltz creeps into every nook and cranny of writer-director Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, a gooey Christmas-time fable about Brits and Americans finding love, passion, and happiness around every conceivable corner. Curtis, writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, has a distinctly British sense of humor—mild absurdism cloaked in decorum—but also an unfortunate Hollywood-inspired sense of narrative construction, as evidenced by this overly tidy tale of strangers, friends, and relatives looking for that special someone during the month leading up to Christmas. The numerous entwined storylines make synopsizing futile, but in each vignette, love crosses every boundary imaginable—class, nationality, race, age, gender, death—to the tune of pop songs by Joni Mitchell, the Pointer Sisters, and Dido. The film, despite its impressive all-star cast, is beset by rampant sentimentality and contrived plotting, and doomed by a cloying, pretentious didacticism. Curtis intones over the opening montage of people greeting friends and loved ones at the airport that “love is all around,” and then, like an arrogant student writing a repetitive term paper, proceeds to prove his mushy thesis statement with example after obvious example. Not helping matters is the fact that every character interacts with only two or three other people, leaving little mystery as to how each piece of this puzzle will fit together. Such storytelling simplicity is necessitated by the scope of the film, which is teeming with one-dimensional middle-class Brits—a widower (Liam Neeson) and his stepson, an interracial couple (Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and their best friend, a lonely writer (Colin Firth) and his Portuguese maid, a lovelorn American (Laura Linney), a married couple (Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson)—but, unfortunately, little chest-thumping passion. Hugh Grant’s British Prime Minister rebukes the US as a bully after Billy Bob Thornton’s Clintonesque commander-in-chief makes a pass at the fetching secretary Grant has his eyes on, but Grant’s hypocrisy is ignored so that we may enjoy a middling Cinderella romance between the dashing political prince and the lovely commoner. Bill Nighy’s randy aging pop star provides a bit of humor amid the oppressive yuletide earnestness, but his caddish presence merely diverts attention from the film’s insincerity. Love Actually may want to show us the wondrous, unexpected ways love can blossom, but given Curtis’s ham-fisted orchestration, all we get is an obnoxiously predictable and disingenuous romance gift-wrapped for the holidays.
- Richard Curtis
- Richard Curtis
- Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson
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