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I'm actually in love with this film
Love Actually (DVD)
Member Name: silverbird44
Love Actually (DVD)
Advantages: Sweet, good storylines, great soundtrack
Disadvantages: Some of the characters a little undeveloped, occasionally saccharine
Despite being a twenty year old girl, and so belonging very much to the stereotypical 'target audience', a romcom is not what I was describe as my first choice of film. Similarly, the number of absolutely terrible trite Christmas films I've endured over the years mean that I often approach these with suspicion. So every time I watch Love Actually I'm taken by surprise by how good an experience it inevitably turns out to be.
Released in 2003, Love Actually is directed by Richard Curtis and so bears many of the hallmarks in dialogue and plot of Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Unlike these two films, however, it does not chose to follow a single romantic plot but instead interweaves the stories of a variety of characters as they grapple with their relationships with the people around them. These characters are embodied by an impressive cast list: such stalwarts of British Cinema as Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, and Emma Thompson rub shoulders with international stars like Laura Linney.
Plot - or plots!
Given the number of different narrative threads contained in this film, it seems sensible to track them one at a time, although I will try to do so without giving too much away!
Firstly, there is a wonderful turn from Bill Nighy as an aging rock star looking for a come back with tacky Christmas song 'Christmas is All Around', a variation on the Troggs/Wet Wet Wet song of a similar name. Nighy is absolutely fantastic, behaving outrageously on radio and chat shows, but always just far enough the right side of disgusting to remain endearing. His relationship with the manager who has been his only constant companion is studied to good effect.
Secondly there is the storyline of Hugh Grant, the Prime Minister who falls for his mouthy East End tea lady Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). One of the more traditional romcom storylines, this plot is as flimsy as the paper on which it was once written, but both protagonists play their parts well and the scene where Hugh Grant destroys the American President during a press conference will resonate with anyone frustrated by Tony Blair's 'pandering' during the George Bush years.
There is also the story of Colin Firth, cheated on by his girlfriend and finding solace in a rural house in France where he meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia, and of a Mark (Andrew Lincoln), a man in love with his best friend's wife (Keira Knightley). There is Liam Neeson, whose wife has died of cancer and who is helping his stepson Sam capture the girl of his dreams by learning the drums, and lesser storylines such as a Colin (Kris Marshall) who, frustrated by his lack of success with women, decides to move to America. There is also a gorgeous little storyline about two shy body doubles (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page), who even though they are willing to take their clothes of on set have all sorts of problems asking each other out.
The final pair of storylines is possibly the best, or at least the most affecting - the heartbreaking story of Laura Linney, madly in love with a man at work but constrained from asking him out by shyness and the tie of a sick brother, and the plotline of Emma Thompson, the faithful, contented ife and mother whose husband (Alan Rickman) is tempted by a younger woman.
Although each storyline could stand alone, there are varying degrees of acquaintance and relationship between characters and these associations are revealed as the film progresses.
The Good Points
As I've already implied, there are an awful lot of good points to Love Actually. Firstly, the many stranded nature of the plot means you simply do not have time to get bored, although it is never so complex that you find yourself struggling to keep up. Although you will probably have favourite storylines, it is unlikely that you will actively dislike any of them. You also cannot help but marvel at how intelligently they are mixed together, and the range of storylines leads to a wonderful section at the end where all of them are concluding simultaneously, which leads to a frenetic and heart warming final half hour.
The second good point is the characters themselves. Generally speaking each of these is well drawn, if not particularly complex, and there are no obvious clunking performances (this sounds like damning with faint praise, but should be seen as a compliment when compared with others in the genre!). Hugh Grant and Colin Firth do their usual thing, Bill Nighy takes the comedic prize, Thomas Sangster (who plays eleven year old Sam in love for the first time) is sweet but not too saccharine, and Kris Marshall is delightfully horrible. The best performance in the film is probably given by Emma Thompson - there is one scene where, after discovering a shocking secret, she is crying in her bedroom, and the raw grief she portrays, as well as the efforts to hide her tears before she goes back to the family, are so realistic and understated that they are instantly recognisable to any viewer.
A third plus point has to lie in Love Actually's soundtrack. Some films are made by a complimentary soundtrack - given that Love Actually has so many little snapshots of different people's lives, it does lend itself to using songs to more quickly create a mood, and to do so it uses songs by everyone from Joni Mitchell to the Beach Boys, Eva Cassidy to the Beatles. These songs are well chosen, often easy to sing along to, and always match the feeling of the scene to which the belong. As well as the adapted songs, there is also an original soundtrack by Craig Thompson which features some beautiful, wistful, evocative piano solos as well as more cheerful tunes. I'm sure I wasn't the only person who went looking for the soundtrack after seeing this film.
Finally, a mention has to be made of some of some of the great quips boasted by Love Actually. Many of these belong to Bill Nighy - neat little touches such as referring to Ant and Dec as 'Ant or Dec' - but other characters also get their fair share, such as Hugh Grant referring to Margaret Thatcher as a saucy minx. There are also some fun physical comedy moments, like Hugh Grant dancing around 10 Downing Street to the strains of Jump For My Love by the Pointer Sisters.
The Bad Points
My main complaint with Love Actually is that - perhaps inevitably - the range of storylines means that you end up with a few distinctly 2D characters, particularly in the storyline that features Keira Knightley. Nothing against Knightley - she seems to receive a lot of venom that she doesn't truly deserve - it's just a case of the characters and storyline not being given as much time as they need to develop. Still, this only happens rarely and as the undeveloped characters get very little screen time, it doesn't cause a major problem.
There are also a few off moments - in terms of dialogue and tone. There is a distinct Richard Curtis type of dialogue, which is generally pretty realistic but occasional jars, such as when two characters have a conversation about a stag night which feels very contrived. Those who hate the sentimental should also approach with caution - most of the film has a healthy covering of humour or cynicism, but given the nature of the film you are bound to find at least some 'cutesy' moments!
The final problem is the time scale - given that this is a Christmas film, everything must happen in a five week period from the end of November onwards. It seems a little implausible that some of the film's events would happen in this period - especially those storylines where characters go from single to engaged! But this is a relatively minor problem once again, and one that you can ignore if you do not take the film too seriously.
The last statement in the paragraph above is probably how I would sum up this film: do not take it too seriously. If you are looking to be offended, or bored, or cynical, then yes, you will probably succeed. You will find the characters shallow, acting poor, storylines trite and structure bemusing. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a cosy, heartwarming Christmas film with a few gritty moments, a killer soundtrack and sweet message (love is all you need), then this is a film that you will really enjoy. It has become one of my family's staple Christmas films over the last few years, and I am sure we will be watching it again next year.
Thank you for reading, and I hope you all had a very good Christmas and have a happy New Year :)
(Written exclusively for Dooyoo)
Summary: Well worth a watch if you want a sweet, gentle Christmas film