Wednesday, December 10, 2003

REVIEW: Love Actually

* * * (out of four)
Seen 6 December 2003 at Loews Boston Common #6 (first-run)

It's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out how the Richard Curtis who writes Working Title's Hugh Grant romantic comedies like Love Actually (see also: Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill) with the one who co-wrote every episode of Blackadder a decade or so ago. Where's the bite, the willingness to make the audience laugh at something they may find uncomfortable? The occasional meanness that we Americans find so thrilling about British comedy?

In Love Actually, most of that is supplied by Bill Nighy, playing "Billy Mac", who would be the kind of aging pop star Randy Newman skewered so well in "I'm Dead (But I Don't Know It)" except that he's fully aware how past his prime he is, and walks around being horrible to his manager, his friends, his audience, and various other pop stars. He's spending December promoting his truly awful holiday cover of "Love Is All Around" ("Christmas Is All Around"), showing up on the televisions and radios of the characters in the other interconnected love stories.

In some ways, Love Actually is like a happy Magnolia. Some of the stories are obviously connected, whereas others barely pass by each other. Most are fairly upbeat, and few could sustain an entire movie on their own. All are well-performed, though, even by the kid. It's to be expected from a cast including Nighy, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Keira Knightly, and Hugh Grant. The movie also has a real knack for cameo casting, as well - Rowan Atkinson is in the advertising, but the real surprise is the actor playing the US President. I won't say who he is, but the temptation for him in particular to play the part as an obnoxious redneck (especially with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in everyone's minds) must have been immense, but he instead plays it cool and reptillian, a complete departure from his roles in two other recent comedies. Most of the American Girls in the end are recognizable, and I suspect Brits caught a lot more.

Love Actually is a crowd pleaser; it knows its aim and is never far off-target. It's not a hit-and-miss affair like many overlapping-story films; the tone is fairly consistent throughout, so that if you like part of it, you should enjoy all of it.

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