I’ve reviewed Love Actually before (see here) but I went back and watched it again for Reader’s Choice.
Set a few weeks before Christmas and leading up to the big day itself, the movie examines the lives and loves of several groups of people, from family to friends and romantic relationships. It’s a tricky thing to do, since Love, Actually packs a lot of storylines into one little movie, but the film pulls it out quite well.
There are many things I don’t like about the movie – Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, that obnoxious “Colin Goes To America To Have Sex With Girls In Wisconsin” interlude – but since this is Reader’s Choice – Guilty Pleasures, I might as well own up to the cheesy fun in the movie.
Part of what I think makes the movie a secret pleasure is how obvious it is that the movie is so damn emotionally manipulative in many ways. There are the rare stories (Laura Linney’s storyline and Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson’s storyline) that are the exception, but more often than not, the woven tales of Love Actually are little more than sentimental pieces designed not even to tug but wrench on your heartstrings.
I guess that it’s helpful that Love, Actually has one hell of a cast.
Bill Nighy is practically perfection as Billy Mack, a washed up, no-filter rock star who basically begs and grovels for the public to give him a number one hit at Christmas. The only faulty thing about his storyline is the weird bromance with his manager tacked on at the end, but that can easily be forgiven.
And Alan Rickman as the emotionally cheating husband and Emma Thompson as the crushed wife are wonderful. I think it’s because it injects a healthy dose of reality into what is otherwise a rose-colored view of love, especially when you count the cornier aspects like the cue card admission of love and Colin Firth learning Portugese and yes, Liam Neeson encouraging his stepson to go crazy nuts overboard for a fellow classmate.
Likewise, Laura Linney’s storyline about sacrificing one love for another kind is equally sad and sweet. Linney, Rickman, Thompson and Nighy carry a lot of the movie on their shoulders, because Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are too busy playing Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.
There are some filler stories; while the stories about the porn actor stand-ins is oddly endearing, it’s forgettable and boring. Liam Neeson’s storyline about a widower raising his lovestruck stepson is sweet but ultimately kind of creepy and strange if you think about it really hard. And the woman Rickman’s supposed to be emotionally cheating with is so devoid of emotion that you can’t help but wonder what Alan Rickman sees in her. She attempts to pull off a slow, smoldering seduction. It comes out more like someone with slight brain damage being flirty.
Even with all the cheesy and mediocre stuff packed in and the previously mentioned abysmal Colin Goes To America storyline, Love, Actually is a romantic comedy that I enjoy quite a bit. Between the random cameos (ahoy, Billy Bob Thornton as the President, and hello there, Rowan Atkinson) and the fine juggling the director does to interweave the stories together as well as one could expect, the scenery chewing and actual good work of the aforementioned actors is a joy to watch. And truth be told, most of us feel a little sentimental around Christmas. Love, Actually asks some suspension of disbelief from the viewer, but hey, why not … it’s Christmas.