Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Movie – Love Actually (2003)

Love Actually shows the lives of many different sets of people in the weeks leading up to Christmas as they try to meet someone, try to get over someone, try to stay together, or just try to hook up.  It has a large cast of familiar faces (more on that in a bit), as well as several cameos.  It is one of the best romantic comedies ever made and it is number 2 on my list of the best non-traditional Christmas movies.

Guys – some of you may have read the words “romantic comedy” and reacted like the grandson in The Princess Bride when he finds out the book his grandfather is going to read to him is “a kissing story.”  As I’ve written before, despite what you might have heard, watching a romantic comedy does not cause your genitals to withdraw up into your body.  I’ve watched hundreds of them and I’m still an outie.  This is a really good movie and you should not avoid it just because it has that icky kissing and love and stuff in it.

There are almost too many stars and stories in the movie to name them all without missing some (but I’ll try).  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson play a long time married couple who experience some of the more bittersweet aspects of love.  Hugh Grant is the new Prime Minister who is attracted to a woman who works for him.  Fans of The Walking Dead may be surprised to see Andrew Lincoln not fighting zombies, but instead playing a man who has a hopeless love for Keira Knightley’s character – who happens to be married to his best friend, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Colin Firth plays a man who goes to France to try to write and ends up falling for his Portuguese housekeeper, even though neither of them speaks the other’s language.  Unbeknownst to either of them, they share the same thoughts, but have no way to tell the other what they are feeling.  Martin Freeman and Joanna Page play two stand-ins for a movie’s nude scenes, but who are very shy with each other when their clothes are on.  Laura Linney is a woman who has had a crush on the hot guy that works with her for a couple of years, but has never dared to say anything.  A Brit decides that he’s going to go to America where all the women are beautiful and can’t resist a man with a British accent.  He runs into Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, and Elisha Cuthbert.  Liam Neeson is a newly widowed father with a young stepson, who has his first crush on a girl at his school.  Bill Nighy plays an aging rocker who has re-recorded an old hit of his as a Christmas song.

As the movie goes on you find out that everyone is connected to everyone else is one way or another, whether it is by blood, by friendship, by working together, or even by where they live.  Many of the stories come together at a Christmas concert and all of them come together in an airport at the end of the movie.

There are also cameos by Billy Bob Thornton as the U.S. President in his best “George W. Bush is a bully” mode; by Shannon Elizabeth and Denise Richards as sisters; by Claudia Schiffer; and by Rowan Atkinson, who is huge in the U.K.

These stories cover the entire gamut of love, from a first crush, to forbidden love, to unrequited love, to lust – both male and female, to married love, to cheating, to platonic love between men, to a sister’s love for her mentally ill brother, to love for your children, to about the most romantic love there could be.  Not every story is a happy one, which is more realistic than most romantic comedies.

I want to mention some specific things about the movie.  The first is Olivia Olson.  She plays the young girl who is the object of a boy’s crush.  She doesn’t appear on screen until a Christmas pageant is shown.  She has an absolutely incredible singing voice for anyone, let alone someone so young.  According to the extras on the DVD they had her sing in front of the crew because most of them thought that she was just lip-synching to someone else.  They couldn’t believe it was really her.  The filmmakers also “roughened” her voice some on the sound mix just to make it a little more believable.

Another scene I want to mention is the one where the British man goes to the U.S. to meet women.  I felt it was the funniest scene in the movie because it was so over the top.  Every fantasy this guy has ever had about American women comes true.  He immediately meets three gorgeous women who love his British accent.  The actresses felt the scene was a little bland and started adlibbing lines that kept going more and more into male fantasy territory – just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any better, it does.  (They all live together, they all sleep in the same bed, they can’t afford pajamas, there’s a fourth roommate who is “the sexy one”, etc.)  The filmmakers just let them go with it and used the best stuff.  The actor reportedly refused his pay for the day because he had to shoot a scene over and over where all three gorgeous women undress him.

Finally, there is a funny moment on the commentary track.  The director and Hugh Grant are talking and the director points out that Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, who play husband and wife, were being re-teamed on screen.  Grant asks when they had worked together before.  There’s a short pause and the director tells Grant that it was in the movie Sense and Sensibility (1995) and he may want to watch it sometime.  Grant just makes this noise that is halfway between disgusted and amused – he had starred in Sense and Sensibility with the two of them.

Love Actually is a really great movie.  As I said at the top, please don’t avoid it just because it is a romantic comedy.  You would be missing out on a great experience.  I highly recommend this movie.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

[Note – you can read about the best non-traditional Christmas movies at this link.]

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  1. I didn't love this film like so many others did, probably because too many stories felt unnecessary but overall it's a fun, warm, and good little Christmas treat with a lot of stars in it. Great review.

  2. @Dan O. - yes, with fewer people they could have spent more time with the remaining ones, but I'm not sure if I'd want to see a bunch of them cut out. You'd have to do several of them in order to gain an appreciable amount of time (i.e. the standins couldn't have been on screen for more than 5-6 minutes total.)


  3. This is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Unfortunately, I think so many movies try to copy it.

  4. @msmariah - it occurred to me that people who haven't seen Love Actually might equate this movie with the recently released New Years Eve movie and that would be terrible. I thought about mentioning it in the article, but I have not seen the latter movie, so even though I've heard bad things about it, I'm not qualified to compare it to Love Actually.

  5. I LOVE this movie! It's such a welcome break from some of the other old standards on this time of year. My problem that I am trying to wrestle with is that I can never find it on TV! I looked for it last year...and again, this year...but it wasn't on. How come???