Film

Love Actually (2003)

Mary Colgan

On occasion, the film allows a jaded sensibility to worm its way into this otherwise picturesque world.


Love Actually

Director: Richard Curtis
Cast: Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Martine McCutcheon, Keira Knightley, Andrew Lincoln, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kris Marshall, Lúcia Moniz, Martin Freeman, Thomas Sangster
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-11-07

If you want to be a big cranky-pants Scrooge, go ahead and walk out of Love Actually, the new romantic comedy from screenwriter/first-time director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary). After all, it isn't perfect. Curtis stuffs at least 10 love stories and 15 principal characters into two hours, and the result is a hodgepodge of feel-good tales (some more entertaining than others) that offer the message that love conquers all... or at least it should.

Curtis' unflaggingly generous film opens with the juxtaposition of two holiday scenes. A montage of people greeting their loved ones at London's Heathrow Airport stands for the true spirit of Christmas (friends and family members hug and kiss, as Hugh Grant's voiceover reminds us that, in times of tragedy, such as after September 11, people's first instinct is to express their love). Just as you're feeling all warm and fuzzy, the film cuts to a recording studio where aging rock musician Billy Mack (hilariously portrayed by Bill Nighy) massacres The Troggs' "Love is All Around," attempting to turn it into a hit entitled "Christmas is All Around" ("So if you really love Christmas," he croons, after a few slip-ups, "Come on and let it snow!"). Billy, self-aware and cynical, represents the corny, consumerist side of Christmas.

Though Love Actually acknowledges this side, it prefers to do so with gentle humor, and to view the holidays as a magical time during which you can confess your feelings to the one you love and things will work out beautifully. Love occurs in obviously sweet situations, such as 11-year-old Sam's (the adorable Thomas Sangster) love for a glamorous, talented classmate (Olivia Olson), as well as less obvious ones, such as craggy Billy's platonic but undeniable love for his portly, devoted manager (Gregor Fisher). The film also postulates (though not entirely successfully) that pure-hearted romances can develop under circumstances that (maybe especially in the post-Monica Lewinsky U.S.) make many viewers squirm: three relationships develop between women and their bosses, including one between England's newly-elected Prime Minister (Grant) and charming, potty-mouthed assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), whose primary responsibility at 10 Downing Street seems to be fetching tea and biscuits.

On occasion, the film allows a jaded sensibility to worm its way into this otherwise picturesque world. Office romances provide opportunity for this, such as when the U.S. president (Billy Bob Thornton) visits the Prime Minister. Wasting no time with trivialities like diplomacy or conversation, he instantly makes a sleazy pass at Natalie, who appears incapable of refusing him, bringing up questions of power imbalance that you'd much rather not ponder in a light-hearted holiday comedy. Another burgeoning office affair features Harry (Alan Rickman), who makes only the feeblest attempt to fend off the advances of his absurdly suggestive, leering secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch). This unromantic, unsexy pairing never rings true, though it does lead to the more interesting story of Harry's devastated wife Karen (beautifully played by Emma Thompson). Karen is one of the few characters not offered an opportunity for blissful love; she has to cope with her pain and humiliation in private and get on with the business of raising her two children.

More often, however, the film sticks to its "You can't control whom you love and you'll never be complete unless you at least make a go at it" premise. Sarah (Laura Linney), one of the film's most affecting characters, fights such an obvious internal battle between repression and unfulfilled passion that it's impossible not to root for her. She has pined for her sexy co-worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) throughout the two years they've worked together, though other obligations (namely, to her handicapped and institutionalized brother) make it heartbreakingly difficult for her to pursue him. Still, as soon as she even contemplates asking him out, he appears at her side at an office party and requests a dance.

Curtis doesn't try to pretend that this fortuity is realistic. He has made a remarkably self-aware film; it manages to be both a romantic comedy and a parody of romantic comedy. As Sam informs his stepdad Daniel (Liam Neeson) right off the bat, no one gets together "until the end." And, in a delightfully offbeat storyline, horny lad Colin (Kris Marshall) travels to Wisconsin, convinced that American girls are less uptight and will most likely sleep with him just because they think his accent is cute. Lo and behold, at the first bar he tries, beautiful, able-bodied females (including Elisha Cuthbert) swarm him and practically rub themselves up and down his body in their excitement at being so close to a real live Englishman. In this film, anyone can have a happy ending.

Love Actually is cheerful and undeniably romantic and, despite its flaws, you'd be hard-pressed to sit through the credits without smiling. Anyone who can watch tiny Sam run with all his might to proclaim his agonizing, 11-year-old love without getting verklempt either has the Grinch's two-sizes-too-small heart or needs a visit from the ghost of Christmas Future.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.