I’ve never been a fan of movies focusing on numerous characters. Even the highly acclaimed MAGNOLIA and SHORT CUTS left me wondering what everyone was raving about. But I quickly became infatuated with LOVE ACTUALLY and actually fell in love with more than one of its protagonists. Fickle of me, I know. Still, how could anyone resist Hugh Grant as an unmarried British Prime Minister who, after meeting an appealing new staff member (delightful newcomer Martine McCutcheon), dances down the stairs when he thinks no one is watching? Or Colin Firth, playing a writer enamored of his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) and struggling valiantly to communicate with her? Or Alan Rickman as a boss tying not to cheat on his intelligent, charming wife of many years (Emma Thompson) while being tempted by one of the sexiest executive assistants in filmdom (Heike Makatech)? Or Liam Neeson, portraying a bereaved husband involved in his 9-year-old stepson’s (Thomas Sangster) plan to win the girl of his dreams? Or . . . well, you see what I mean.
At the original screening I attended, other members of the audience felt the same way. It’s the first time I’ve heard people go “Ahhhhh” out loud over a movie kiss. That happened when Firth (who gets better and better with each movie, if that’s possible) finally buzzed his lovely housekeeper. And, with the exception of a horror film, I’ve never heard viewers shout out “No. Don’t do that!” – but it occurred here when a character stopped making love to answer the phone. That warning went to Laura Linney in the middle of her steamy scene with younger colleague Rodrigo Santoro. Obviously, nobody wanted anything to interfere with this love-starved couple getting together.
Those are the stories I became most emotionally involved in. However, others also held my interest – including the one featuring Andrew Lincoln as a man steeling himself against strong feelings for his best friend’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gorgeous wife (Kiera Knightley) and another showcasing two surprisingly shy body-doubles (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) for sexually explicit movie scenes.
Although everyone in this great ensemble cast is terrific, I think Emma Thompson stands out. I hope she receives another Oscar nomination for her emotional roller-coaster performance here. Consider how, in one scene, she changes in the blink of an eye from crying copious tears to expressing enthusiasm for a family outing. Very impressive! And yet, I laughed the most at Bill Nighy’s antics as a faded and cynical rock star making a come back with a ridiculous Christmas version of “Love is All Around.”
With LOVE ACTUALLY, director Richard Curtis offers movie fans a joyous reminder that “love is all around.” Not a bad message for the Christmas season.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” for sexuality, nudity and language.)
Review by Elizabeth Lawrence/ writing as Betty Jo Tucker. LOVE ACTUALLY is one of Harry & Elizabeth Lawrence’s many “favorite romantic films” included in IT HAD TO BE US, the 2011 e-book version available in Amazon’s Kindle store.