The main theme of Love Actually is that both love and Christmas are all around us. Now if you find that a little nauseating then you’d best leave this well alone…
Every year the Working Title Britcom is rolled out at a profitable time of year and with its crowd-pleasing formula it makes a killing at the box office. Witness Four Weddings, Notting Hill or Bridget Jones’ Diary. This year Richard Curtis, who wrote all three of the aforementioned, is taking things a little further with his directorial debut, rather sinisterly claiming this to be “the ultimate romantic comedy”.
Set in an airbrushed London in the weeks leading up to Christmas, there are eight different stories vying for attention, including new Prime Minister Hugh Grant falling in love with his tealady, played by Martine McCutcheon (no, seriously). Other tales include Liam Neeson’s widow trying to help his stepson find true love, aging rocker Bill Nighy’s attempts to land a Christmas number one and Andrew Lincoln falling in love with his best friend’s wife Kiera Knightley.
It all sounds a lot more tiring on paper than it actually is on screen because one of the main surprises is how well all the stories sit together. The connections between them are often tiresome but each story has its own interest. Curtis tries to mix some drama into the fluffy mix and frequently he succeeds – Emma Thompson’s moving Christmas Eve breakdown for example.
There are some rather too obvious attempts to appeal to the American market – Andrew Lincoln’s character speaking of his love for The West Wing for instance – yet the scenes with Billy Bob Thornton’s US President are really quite odd, especially when the PM decides to make a stand against America.
The emphasis is more on romance than comedy and it’s a shame that there aren’t more funny moments. Colin Firth’s attempts to speak French and McCutcheon’s first meeting with Grant do amuse though. There are several stand-out performances – Bill Nighy being the obvious choice. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson are both very good at providing the more serious moments, and Martine McCutcheon gives a surprisingly non-annoying performance which hints at another break-out British star.
The film’s closing moments may prove too much if you have a low tolerance for sentimentality. The ridiculously overwrought orchestral music makes you believe you’re watching something a lot more worthy than a romantic comedy and some moments are very familiar. Despite this however, it still works. You may hate yourself for it, but it’s very, very hard not to leave the cinema with a big smile – as we’re frequently reminded, it is Christmas after all.