Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson
Director: Richard Curtis
Well, it’s the most eagerly anticipated British movie of the year so you’ll already know the basics: set in London, Christmas time, star-studded cast falling in and out of love. Everything that one would expect from a movie by writer/director Richard Curtis is present: amusing set pieces alongside bursts of clumsy humour; and some surprisingly tender observations vying with cloying sentiment. Following on from Four Bridgets and a Toothy American it must be said that there is the worry that the Curtis formula is becoming slightly over familiar – and let’s not kid ourselves that said formula was ever some kind of alchemic breakthrough. As refreshing as FOUR WEDDINGS was when it hit cinemas back in Spring, 1994, it was certainly not without its faults (lazily drawn caricatures and some weak dialogue prime amongst them). Faults which have subsequently grated that bit more with each successive entry into the Curtis rom-com canon. And, simultaneously, the feel-good factors (single-minded pursuit of a romantic ideal; wacky second-string characters; cameo star-turns) are slightly diminished by repetition.
Where LOVE ACTUALLY does score points for originality is in its ability to interweave multiple story strands. Even more impressive is that almost all of the mini-plots manage to entertain sufficiently to maintain audience interest, although Colin (Kris Marshall)’s jaunt to Wisconsin is a prime example of Curtis’ occasional penchant for mining a blandly obvious seam of humour without recourse to an original punch line. But then Curtis has always been guilty of throwing too much at an audience in the hope that some of it will stick. Fortunately for him in LOVE ACTUALLY he has a superlative cast who manage to shine in the film’s moments of unexpected subtlety: good examples being Laura Linney’s brief dance of joy when she snares her man, and Keira Knightley’s eye-widening realisation of why her husband’s best friend treats her so coldly. But it is Hugh Grant’s love-struck Prime Minister who best exemplifies the fact that less is more: he is much funnier when quietly despairing of his inability to act reasonably around Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), than when he is indulging Curtis’ misconception that profanity equals funny.
So, all in all, it’s not that funny and not that original but it scores points in its skilful use of a talented cast, the fact that the moments of genuine pathos (Linney’s scenes with her brother) outshine the scenes of forced sentimentality (Liam Neeson’s dash to the airport with his stepson), and the undeniable feel-good factor engendered by the yuletide trimmings. (Note to filmmakers: give your movie a Christmas setting and you earn an extra star).