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It's only five weeks until Christmas in London, and love is in the air for a large assortment of the populace. There's a married couple (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman) facing relationship woes; an emotionally burdened office worker (Laura Linney), who secretly desires a handsome co-worker; a widower (Liam Neeson) trying to piece his life back together while helping his stepchild (Thomas Sangster) land a girlfriend; two adult film lighting stand-ins (Joanna Page and Martin Freeman) who spark to each other while at work; a lonely young man (Andrew Lincoln) who secretly desires his best friend's wife (Kira Knightley); an aging rocker (Bill Nighy) taking his manager for granted; a romantically undesirable man (Kris Marshall) who feels he must travel to America to find love; a writer (Colin Firth) pining for his maid (Lucia Moniz); and the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant), who can't keep his assistant (Martine McCutcheon) out of his head. This lovesick community collides during the holiday weeks as they each endeavor to find romance in the face of overwhelming self-doubt.
"Love Actually" is a crushingly joyful affair from the famed Working Title Films, the producers behind word-of-mouth behemoths "Four Weddings and a Funeral, "Notting Hill," and "Bridget Jones's Diary." To keep the company man happy, Richard Curtis was handed his first big shot at directing with "Love Actually," having already scripted the aforementioned smashes, along with his extensive work on the "Mr. Bean" franchise. To help butter his debut behind the camera, Curtis plays it smart, calling in every possible favor from the top tier of British acting talent. He has also adds a pinch of American intelligence (Linney) and eye candy (Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards, Elisha Cuthbert, and January Jones appear briefly), and selects the greatest cinematic holiday to build a feature around: Christmas.
"Love Actually" is smug, childish, clichéd, unrelentingly and sickeningly upbeat, and when Hugh Grant decides to shake his ass to the Pointer Sisters' electric hit, "Jump (For My Love)," the picture becomes embarrassingly silly. But, preciousness detectors be damned, I couldn't help but fall for every last frame. "Love" isn't the most honeyed feature I've come into contact with, but it's an unforgettable film that stands proudly, so defiantly in love with the idea of love. Bombastic audience-hooting moments aside, Curtis has written his most accomplished film, finding the energy to direct the hell out of it as well. And it's even gloriously R-rated to boot.
Assembling a cast of about 20 main characters (sadly, the above synopsis leaves a lot of people out) to follow in this continually intertwining story, "Love Actually" often resembles a Robert Altman film, if the auteur swallowed some Prozac and maybe a touch of Viagra. It zigzags through two handfuls of stories concerning all kinds of love found in the world, be it platonic, romantic, fraternal, reliable, detestable, forgettable, desirable, taken for granted, or so heartfelt it crushes everything in its path. Curtis opens the film in an airport, having Hugh Grant explain to the viewer in voiceover that no matter how impossible the world can be, there's always a capacity for love within humanity, seen every day in the chummy arrivals area.
The tone is set expertly since, as saccharine as the plot and the characters appear to be, Curtis is maintaining a level of realism not often seen in a picture this fanciful and crammed with holiday cheer. Yes, there are romantic comedy staples such as a last minute dash to solidify true love, oodles of meet cutes, and there's the nauseatingly chipper romantic comedy dialog that Curtis has been known to dish out time and again in earlier scripts. But the malarkey never congeals. There isn't a silver lining in the cards for some of these characters, and Curtis doesn't pretend that he knows all the answers. Like another gem from 2003, "Lost in Translation," there's a palatable sense of regret strung, much like the tinsel, throughout "Love," with heartbroken characters unable to get what they want, crippled to voice their desires clearly. It's in these delicious glimpses of aggravated yearning that Curtis develops a real bond with his characters and the viewer, balancing out the more improbable takes on romance with little eggnog sips of aching, facial-kick reality.
To wax rhapsodic about the cast would take days. It's easier to simply call these talented folk a dream team and be done with it. Extra credit is certainly due to Emma Thompson as an emotionally flattened wife, Liam Neeson showing early signs of likeability as the widowed father of a love-struck child, and Andrew Lincoln doing his best unspoken desire routine as he pines for a woman he cannot have, taking with him the film's finest, Dylanesque moment of closure. And Hugh Grant makes for a very fashionable Prime Minister, with a performance that's reliable in all the good ways Grant is known for. All this is trumped of course by Bill Nighy, who commits grand theft movie in the role of aging rocker Billy Mack, a wilted stud who wants nothing more than one last hurrah on the holiday charts, using unflappable honesty and public desperation as his ticket there. He's an absolute scream. In actuality, the whole cast is aces, making Curtis come across as a better director than perhaps he truly is.
It's easy to be blinded by the show stopping, rollicking sequences that close "Love Actually," but attention must be paid to what Curtis doesn't show the camera. For every celebratory shot of a love connection, Curtis gives us a relationship that is on the brink of crumbling, or never even receiving a chance to commence. The film closes with a moment of reassurance, but under the buttery crust lies the bitter truth about relationships, and "Love Actually" deserves major credit for steering clear of fantasy island. Still, I'd advise viewers to bring floss, because the sight of a 12 year-old chasing the girl of his dreams through Heathrow is sweet enough to cause major moviegoing cavities.
The VC-1 encoded presentation (2.35:1 aspect ratio) on "Love Actually" has a nice, clean feel to it while retaining light grain for a proper film-like texture. The viewing experience comes across very bright, keeping in step with frothy cinematographic intent. Colors are deep and communicative, with the liberal deployment of red keeping the holiday spirit alive, and snowscapes adding to the wintry punch. Skintones are natural, and black levels are satisfactorily handled, permitting strong detail for this cast of handsome actors and idyllic locations.
I didn't find the DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix to offer much in the way of an intensively enveloping experience, preferring to move ahead in a blunt fashion; a frontal assault that stays within the film's grasp. Dialogue exchanges are easy on the ears, no matter the accent, and remain pleasingly free from the soundtrack selections. Scoring comes through in a big way, lifting up the mix with powerful fidelity. More of a strong track than a deep one, the picture is accurately represented here. French Canadian, German, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, and Italian DTS 5.1 options are available.
English SDH, French European, French Canadian, Italian, German, Castilian Spanish, Latin American Spanish, and Dutch subtitles are offered.
All supplements are ported over from the 2004 DVD release...
A feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Richard Curtis, and actors Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, and Thomas Sangster provides a wealth of entertainment value. With a few of the participants viewing the film for the first time, the track allows for a few choice moments of immediate reaction. Curtis leads the way with technical tidbits, pointing out the minutiae and dissecting location challenges. Grant is the joker, prodding everyone with pithy observations and one-liners. It's an informative, funny track that miraculously maintains an impressive commentary mileage.
"Deleted Scenes" (37:16) defies a meticulous breakdown. The gist here is that Richard Curtis faced a 3 1/2 hour rough cut, forced to whittle down his picture to a manageable size. Curtis pulled off a miracle, but the edits left behind are substantial -- the best is an extensive scene where Neeson's character battles the humiliation of porn website pop-ups. They are viewed with introductions from Curtis.
"The Storytellers" (9:58) is the film's official BTS featurette, slickly covering the creation of the film through interviews with cast and crew. Standard-issue promotional material.
"The Music of 'Love Actually'" (8:14) sits down with Curtis, who gives his thoughts on select soundtrack cuts used in the film. Full scenes follow each introduction.
Music videos for Kelly Clarkson's "The Trouble with Love Is" (3:49) and Billy Mack's "Christmas is All Around" (4:13) are presented.
A Theatrical Trailer is not included.
I imagine the only depressing aspect of "Love Actually" is that Curtis has been giving his scripts away to other directors all these years when clearly he should've been doing the job himself.