Love Actually (15)
I’ll venture my dentist is a big fan of Richard Curtis. After all, my teeth rot a little more each time I digest one of his candy floss whimsies of middle class, Middle England folk with their irritatingly endearing foibles, idiosyncrasies and eccentricities.
In Love Actually Curtis scripts and directs for the first time, and the result is more hit than miss, though the most talked-about element – the romance between hip premier Hugh Grant and cockney sparrer Martine McCutcheon – doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders.
Yet romance is what this engaging soufflé is all about, even if Curtis does overcook it by serving up arguably one too many festive vignettes. There are – count ‘em – ten separate yet interlocked stories within Love Actually, all shining a spotlight on the emotions of a group of very lonely people in the run-up the Christmas.
Liam Neeson is the widower coping with grief and a stepson in love. Colin Firth is the cuckold with a cautious eye on his foreign secretary. Alan Rickman the complacent husband tempted by the office babe, Emma Thompson his frumpy but devoted wife. Laura Linney is the wallflower with a family secret. Bill Nighy is the washed-out ‘70s rocker peddling a crap Christmas single. Andrew Lincoln is the hurt best pal of Chiwetel Ejiofor, who’s just married Keira Knightley. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page are the movie stand-ins invited to take off more and more clothes while they make small talk. Thomas Sangster is the kid in love with the most popular girl in school. Kris Marshall is the lovelorn loser who heads Stateside in search of American pie. And Hugh Grant is the British Prime Minister and bachelor who finds himself drawn to lowly secretary Martine McCutcheon.
It’s hard not to like Love Actually. It has a warmth that belies its 21st century roots, with Curtis, the man behind Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Notting Hill, basically proving, in his schmaltzy way, that there really is someone for everyone in this rotten world we call our home.
Overloaded with charm, one-liners, typically Curtisian moments – Andrew Lincoln mutely professing his love, Neeson weeping as Bye Bye Baby is played at a funeral, Nighy auto-destructing on live radio – and packed with cameos from the likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Denise Richards and Claudia Schiffer, this is the perfect Christmas film.
Yet it isn’t totally soaked in saccharine. While the Grant/McCutcheon romance stretches believability to breaking point, the scenes involving Linney and those featuring Rickman and Thompson are heartbreaking in their truth. And it’s here that the film scores.
The film is stolen by the antics of Bill Nighy as has-been singer Billy Mack – an extension of the rocker he played so brilliantly in Still Crazy – who blunders from one disaster to another while capturing the nation’s collective heart. In a series of standout performances (by Linney, Thompson, Lincoln and Thornton in his all-too-brief cameo as a repulsive American politico) Nighy wins hands down.
Thrown in guest spots from Rowan Atkinson, Gregor Fisher, Ant & Dec and Michael Parkinson, and a sparky script that is not afraid to embrace profanity, and Love Actually succeeds in turning the face into a massive grin. And there’s no harm in that.
It will, of course, be huge.
Star rating: ***