Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Love Actually (Second Review)

(UK, 2003)

Films don’t come much more feel-good than this one. It’s fairly long for a romantic comedy, and even so doesn’t have time to fully develop all the many characters. But enough time is given to each that I was able to have a rooting interest in them.

The best of the stories (all of them centered around Christmas in London) is about Bill Nighy—the first time I actually noticed this great actor, I believe—as an aging rock star who records a schlock Christmas song that climbs the charts. He puts the song down at every opportunity on the media, which probably actually helps it become a hit. His dissolute, obscene, don’t-give-a-shit performance had me laughing every time he appeared.

Then there is Keira Knightley (who I think is one of the most beautiful women in the world) and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln as a rather unusual love triangle.

Colin Firth is a novelist who goes to France to recover from a bad romance, and falls in love with Lúcia Moniz, his Portuguese housekeeper, leading to a wildly overdone marriage proposal in his newly-learned Portuguese.

Moving right along, there is Hugh Grant as the new Prime Minister, who falls for his personal assistant. Sorry, Hugh, I love your stammering presence in the right part, but I just couldn’t believe that any politician could rise so high if he was a shy as you are. Billy Bob Thornton has a small part as the slimy United States President.

Liam Neeson is a widower who is trying to connect with his stepson, who is madly in love with one of his classmates. This one didn’t work too well, either.

Laura Linney is featured in the only completely sad story here. She has a crush on a co-worker, and just when things are going well—undressing in the bedroom—she gets a frantic call from her institutionalized mentally ill brother. This has happened many times before, and she is loyal to his needs. It kills any relationship she has, being on call 24/7 for him.

Another one that is sort of sad is Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as a married couple. He is being tempted by a seductress at work, and buys a necklace for her. Rowan Atkinson has a small and hilarious role as the clerk who sells the necklace, and insists on the most elaborate packaging imaginable, while Rickman worries that his wife will show up and see what he’s doing. Emma does find out, and is destroyed by it, but ends up giving him another chance.

The weirdest story is of an unsuccessful Don Juan who becomes convinced that English women are cold, and he needs to go to America (Milwaukee, in the winter!) to score with the birds. No sooner does he sit down at a bar than three beautiful women are swarming all over him. (“We don’t have a lot of room, so we share a bed. And we can’t afford pajamas!”) Soon he is in a threesome, with a fourth on the way. What was that shit all about? It seems to have arrived from an entirely different movie.

Another strange one, but one that worked better for me, was Martin Freeman and Joanna Page as body doubles for porn films. (I really doubt that such positions exist in the world of porn, though it is standard in the higher end of movie-making.) They spend their days naked, surrounded by crew, simulating sex, but are timid and proper off the set.

It all comes together, more or less, at a school Christmas pageant, where various relationships are revealed. I have to say I enjoyed most of this, but I will warn you that if your tolerance for gooey sentimentality is low, you should avoid this like a diabetic avoids rock candy.