Friday, June 18, 2004


Love Actually

If you enjoy romantic comedies, it's hard to imagine that you won't enjoy this one. If you're an Anglophile, it's even harder: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, and Liam Neeson take turns on screen throughout the movie. So if you're just looking for a pick-me-up, or a romantic movie night, search no more. Here it is.

With that said, Richard Curtis goes a bit overboard here--and the DVD extras reveal that he wanted to go even further. The movie juggles at least eight subplots; is it any wonder Curtis had a hard time cutting it down to two hours and 15 minutes? A few subplots are clearly meant as comic relief of a sort; I particularly liked the couple that met while working as body doubles for a movie, an occupation that required them to spend long periods of time simulating all manner of sex acts with one another; when they finally fall for one another (this gives away nothing in this movie, by the way--the plots are pretty much telegraphed to the audience in the first ten minutes) they experience awkwardness just kissing. It's a sly commentary on culture and a funny moment at the same time.

Other subplots are sadder; Liam Neeson's wife dies at the start of the film, and he deals with his own grief and that of his stepson mostly on his own. And while it's clear that Alan Rickman will eventually succumb to the temptation of his secretary--even Emma Thompson, who plays his wife, warns him about her--it isn't clear until the end that he'll do so in a way that raises and then devastates his wife.

Which brings us to the primary fault with the film: the ending. There are a great many happy moments, including the wrap of the Colin Firth subplot (another one that starts out sadly), but there are also many loose ends left untied. After witnessing the devastation of Emma Thompson, we get a 15-second outro from her subplot that tells us nothing about how she and Alan Rickman dealt with his infidelity. A subplot involving Keira Knightley wraps clumsily, with Curtis asking us to accept that one kiss from a married woman can quell an obsession and make everything right. The whole thing races to close within the allotted time, as if Curtis is fearful his audience will have to leave for the bathroom if he lingers any longer.

This should have been a high-profile mini-series. Really. There's nothing about it that demands the movie theatre screen, and Curtis clearly had enough plot to fill six or seven hours if he tried. The footage he left out and shows on the DVD would have made for a better movie, and the loose ends he leaves could have been wrapped up more effectively given more time.

Alas, that's not what happened. Don't get me wrong: you'll enjoy this movie. The airport scenes at the start and end of the movie, showing ordinary people embracing their loved ones as they arrive at the gate, will make you smile at the beginning and probably prolong your happy tears at the end. But when you stop to think about it afterward, you'll wish you could have stayed with these characters longer and known more about them. Curtis could have given you that, too.

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