A bi-weekly series featuring a recommendation of a movie available in the Reeves Memorial Library DVD collection
Love Actually (2003)
Written and directed by Richard Curtis
If one were to list the film genres most frequently plagued by triteness and an overabundance of schmaltz, the romantic comedy and the Christmas movie would both certainly be near the top of that list. Combining the two would seem like a surefire way to produce a stale, cloying, overly sentimental mess. It may be somewhat surprising, then, that a film like Love Actually, a big-budget, sprawling ensemble romantic comedy with an all-star cast, essentially a rom-com/Christmas hybrid on steroids, should be such a delight to watch.
Much of the credit for this goes to screenwriter and first-time director Richard Curtis, whose career as the writer of the Black Adder and Mr. Bean television series, as well as the smash hit romantic comedy films Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Notting Hill (1999), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), have made him a leading figure in British comedy. The script is smart and genuinely funny, and the game cast members ensure that the sentiment rarely feels forced. Unlike more recent holiday-themed ensemble romantic comedies like Valentine's Day (2010) and New Year's Eve (2011), which feel like engineered, lab-created paycheck vehicles for their star-studded casts, Love Actually feels fresh, engaging, and sincere, even in its grandest, that-only-happens-in-the-movies romantic moments.
Despite this myriad of intersecting stories (did I mention that the Prime Minister is Karen's brother?), the narrative moves effortlessly back and forth among the numerous plot lines. The bevy of characters and stories also means that the film makes for a breezy viewing experience. With a running time of well over two hours, the film is far longer than average, yet nothing in the story feels like filler, and there are even a couple of storylines that feel underdeveloped (the Mark-Juliet strand in particular seems resolved too briefly and neatly). Richard Curtis, never one to shy away from somber plot points (after all, a funeral does figure prominently in his best-known film script), wisely introduces some more serious story elements that, in less talented hands, might undermine the film's overall cheerfulness. Instead, the film manages a sober and affecting treatment of infidelity and mental illness that never derails the overall mood.
The film's expansive cast is a joy to watch. Hugh Grant, reuniting with the writer that gave him his breakout role in Four Weddings and a Funeral, is charming as usual as the Prime Minister. Emma Thompson also gives a terrific performance, particularly in the heartbreaking scene where she discovers her husband's possible infidelity. The film's real standout, however, is Bill Nighy as middle-aged rocker Billy Mack, whose mischievous forthrightness provides some of the film's biggest laughs.
While the film's opening and closing voiceover sequences feel a tad heavy-handed, the sincerity of the filmmakers, Richard Curtis in particular, shines through, making this a perfect romantic holiday film to watch cuddled up next to the one you love.