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Love Actually

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Love Actually

Starring: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson
Director: Richard Curtis
Rated: R
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: November 2003
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, Heike Makatsch, Kris Marshall, January Jones, Martin Freeman, Adam Godley, Denise Richards, Emma Thompson

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

Who'd have thought that a movie without special effects, bereft of pratfalls, one needing no terminator or samurai warriors or cynical attacks on the jury system, would be so frighteningly good? Yes, there is a future for warm-hearted romantic comedies, even those with sentimental overtones, provided that the dialogue is sharp, witty, well-timed, clever everything that Hallmark Christmas cards are not. Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") seems genuinely to believe that love actually exists, not a simple matter of hormones running amuck or a fleeting affair that inevitably ends up badly. Curtis's film embraces a number of stories and subplots with characters who coincidentally get together only at the movie's winsome conclusion, thus separating "Love Actually" from, say, Schnitzler's "La Ronde," which is more a game of musical love seats with each character peeling off to pair briefly with the others.

That "Love Actually" is lighter than a Christmas snowflake, each story presumably unable to stand alone but in concert with the others forms an endearing gestalt, is not a criticism. Curtis affords his characters dialogue so clever that since less is more the audience needs to be distracted with kaleidoscopic changes lest banality sneak in to render the comic situations prosaic. Though many of the situations are implausible at best, particularly a scene featuring the public dressing down of the President of the United States by a British Prime Minister, the audience readily suspends disbelief and falls into the holiday spirit even during the film's opening week in mid-November.

"Love Actually" is a work which could awaken year-end awards nominations for Best Ensemble Acting. No individual thesp, not even Hugh Grant, takes up more of our attention than others or even attempts to hog the spotlight. With the opening scene's representing the weeks before Christmas and counting down, Grant performs in the role of David, a handsome, bachelor Prime Minister who appears to have no social life, whose heart is captured by a somewhat chubby member of his staff, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). Liam Neeson takes on the role of Daniel, the newly widowed stepfather of young Sam (Thomas Sangster). Aging singer Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is surrounded by groupies who adore him not so much for his body but for his honesty in publicly calling his latest #1 hit song "crap." Harry (Alan Rickman) is an executive being courted by a trampy young worker (Heike Makatsch) while he in turn, mentors employee Sarah (Laura Linney) to make the first moves on another staff member on whom she has a crush, Rodrigo Santoro). At the same time he must hide evidence of a potential affair from his wife Karen (Emma Thompson). A new bride, Juliet (Keira Knightly) realizes that her husband's best man, Mark (Andrew Lincoln), is in love with her while a charming writer of crime thrillers, Jamie (Colin Firth) is falling in love with his Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz), who does not speak a word of English.

The story is enriched by a particularly comic performance from Rowan Atkinson as Rufus, a dressed-to-the-nines associate in a department store's jewelry department, who insists on providing layer upon layer of gift wrapping for a necklace purchased by Harry who is in quite a hurry to pocket the present meant for his young admirer--lest his wife, Karen, catch him in the act.

"Love Actually" evokes such frothy performances from the entire cast that one could scarcely point out one or two actors who run away with the show. This, of course, is to writer- director Curtis's skill in balancing each scene exquisitely with the others, all photographed by Michael Coulter on a snowy London that could win over an American audience looking for a place to vacation in December, with a short excursion to Marseilles, which affords Jamie the potential to propose to his maid who is now a waitress in a Portugese cafe.

A director more interested in saccharine endings might well have paired everyone off with the ideal mate, but this is not the case. Some are left with broken hearts, others with varied stages of disappointment. Most important, though, is that we in the audience leave the theater a little less cynical about the world, a feeling reinforced by a delightful split-screen montage depicting scenes of love the world over. While the most obvious theme is that cynicism is for dour pessimists, that the world is one of love, love, love, we carry away as well the wise counsel not to hide our feelings but to lay our amorous cards on the romantic table even at the risk of humiliating failure.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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