Flashback: “Love Actually,” Reviewed: The More the Merrier?


Love Actually was released 10 years ago this week. Here’s my review from November 2003. In retrospect I was too hard on this one: Christmas confections are just that, and I can’t deny that the film has wormed its way into my Grinch of a heart.

Love Actually is Kill Bill with smooches instead of swordfights. Just as Quentin Tarantino’s recent film set aside character, subtext and nuance to dial up the body count, so has Richard Curtis excised the extraneous bits from your standard romantic comedies to concentrate on the “aw” scenes: a woman lands a date with her dream guy! A best man falls in love with the bride to be! A boy bonds with his stepdad! Say it with me: Awww.

As a screenwriter, Curtis is responsible for the popular British romances Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones’s Diary (plus the small, sweet masterpiece The Tall Guy). It’s not surprising that Curtis, in his directorial debut, would return to his familiar London in Love, but his chosen route – tracking 10-plus love stories in about two hours – forces him to pilot the tour bus at breakneck speeds: the surroundings are a blur, and every so often you feel the wheels leave the road.

For everyone who enjoys romantic comedies but doesn’t have the time to see as many as they’d like, Love Actually is like a greatest-hits collection. Hugh Grant, as an affable Prime Minister, falls on his first day for a member of his household staff (Martine McCutcheon). The PM’s sister (Emma Thompson), an effortlessly devoted family woman, finds her world rocked with the gradual realization that her husband (Alan Rickman) is probably having a workplace fling.

Newlywed Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) can’t understand why her husband’s pal (Andrew Lincoln) is cool to her, until she sees his secret all-bride-no-groom wedding video edit. Cuckolded Colin Firth heads to France to mend his broken heart … and falls for his Portuguese-speaking maid. There’s even some parental-child love, thanks to widower Liam Neeson (after all, what’s a Curtis movie without a funeral?) connecting with his 11-year-old stepson over the boy’s blooming love for a classmate.

These threads, and others, work as well as they can; everything moves so quickly (the action counts down the five weeks before Christmas Eve) that Curtis has his hands full keeping the stories straight, and the actors can barely register past their pre-existing charm.

There are exceptions: Bill Nighy (Underworld), as a has-been rock star promoting his treacly comeback album, offers refreshing dollops of honest levity; and Thompson, in one heart-rending scene of aching realization, delivers a moment of emotive power as incongruous to her surroundings as a Shakespearean sonnet in a greeting card. Most everything else in Love Actually is a holiday trifle: undeniably enjoyable, but too aggressively sweet for its own good.

(IMAGE: Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.)