By Christian DiMartino
Can we talk about how great Love Actually is?
There are two kinds of people in this world: those who love Love Actually, and liars. No disrespect to anyone who doesn’t like Love Actually (believe it or not, these people exist), but it is a feeling that will never be mutual. Love Actually gets everything so right, as I see it, and it’s a romantic comedy so charming and wonderful that, even though I aim to watch it at Christmas time, I could honestly watch it at other points in the year.
The film is directed by Richard Curtis, who marked his directorial debut here after striking screenwriting gold with films like Four Wedding and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and Notting Hill. All of which were quite English, and even more so because they feature Hugh Grant, who is also in this movie. The beauty of Love Actually lies in the fact that it is, indeed, the ultimate romantic comedy. Many films of the genre make me feel icky, and perhaps this one made some feel icky too. Yet something about what Curtis conjured here worked. It’s comedic moments are funny, it’s emotional moments effective, it’s romantic elements earned and romantic. It has a plethora of romantic storylines-perhaps 3 hours+ worth of film material, and yet it’s a little over two hours, with just about all of its central 15 characters making an impact of some sort. That, in my eyes, is a triumph.
The cast you probably know, but here I go: Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Martin Freeman, Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy… hmm, did I leave anyone out? Probably. The premise you’re probably aware of too: a group of people living in London fall in and out of love in the two weeks leading up to Christmas.
There’s the newly appointed Prime Minister (Grant) who falls for a “chubby” girl who works for him, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon, another one). The Prime Minister’s sister, Karen (Thompson) is a loving mother who has heartbreaking suspicions about her husband Harry (Rickman). Harry is the boss of Sarah (Linney), who is madly in love with fellow co-worker Carl (Rodrigo Santoro, Damn, another one). There’s plenty more, but these stories connect, and in the background of all of them is arguably the best character, an aging ex-drug addict musician named Billy Mack (Nighy), who is cashing in on a cheap Christmas song, is well aware of it, and wants everyone to know it.
Love Actually is at its funniest whenever Nighy is on screen. The movie has its fair share of laughs, also present in a storyline involving a British doofus who travels to America with the expectation that American women will sleep with him because of his accent. Yet Nighy especially tickles the funny bone, giving it his all and then some in a role that never holds back.
Something about Love Actually has always left me feeling warm. Its love stories add such charm, and while some have a certain sweetness, there’s also a good share of emotional elements too (back to that in a minute). Yet there is something really unique about this film that you kind of have to pay credit for, even if you’re a naysaying liar. There are multiple characters, and yet within about two minutes of screen time, each of them are pretty well established and memorable. Sure the Martin Freeman storyline is kinda thrown in there, but eh, it’s whatever.
So yeah, I love this movie. I love how warm it makes me feel at times, and it’s a testament to Curtis that he’s made a movie that never seems to get old. There are also certain scenes that are the talk of legend; the ones that I can envision as clear as day. Nighy’s introduction to the movie, for example, and the way he sings “I feel it in my fingers.” Or when Grant dances around his headquarters, set to the Pointer Sisters “Jump for My Love.” Or when Thomas Sangster runs through Heathrow airport to declare his love for Joanna, who also had an equally unforgettable rendition of “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Or when Thompson’s Karen basically makes the connection that her husband is having an affair, set to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (one of the most effective scenes in the film). Or the use of perhaps the greatest song ever written, The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” as the film brings all of its characters together to end the movie, and beautifully.
And people don’t like this movie. Sheesh.