Love Actually . Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Richard Curtis. Running time: 129 minutes. Rated R (for sexuality, nudity and language). Starring Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney, Martine McCutcheon, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, Lucina Moniz, Rodrigo Santoro, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson.

Love Actually

There are too many characters and sideplots in Love Actually, Richard Curtis's (the writer of Bridget Jones's Diary) directorial debut, for all of them to be fully developed. And you know what? I don't care.

Love Actually is such a good-hearted movie that any real complaints - other than the aforementioned one - that can be leveled at it are superficial and, ultimately, inconsequential. There is not a downbeat or cynical frame in the entire film, but there is also not a single false or artificial one. Not everything is fully fleshed out or developed, but everything that's there works.

It is, as may have been implied, an ensemble picture of sorts, except one where none of the stories truly intersect in any tangible way. What does connect them, however, is the tone, the belief that - as is the long version of the title - love actually is all around us. The key stories are as follows:

1) Hugh Grant plays the newly appointed British Prime Minister, who starts a relationship with one of his assistants, Natalie (Marine McCutcheon);
2) Colin Firth is Jamie, a novelist who goes to a cabin in France to work on a book, and falls in love with his Portuguese maid, Aurelia (Lucina Moniz)
3) Liam Neeson is Daniel, the father of a young boy who has a crush on a class-mate;
4) Harry (Alan Rickman) and his relationship with his wife (Emma Thompson), the Prime Minister's sister; and
5) One of Harry's employees, Susan (Laura Linney) is secretly in love with a co-worker, Carl (Rodrigo Santoro).

There are other stories to be told, but those are the most important and interesting. Also important is Bill Nighy as an aging rock star, who has released a "crappy" (in his words) Christmas record in an attempt to make money. Mr. Bean himself, Rowan Atkinson, has a brief but funny scene in which he plays a department store salesman.

There are tons of funny moments in Love Actually, and plenty of hilarious ones, as well. None of the comedy is dark or downbeat, and none of it is cruel. Nighy steals, really, the entire movie. When appearing on a television special, he gleefully advises the children watching at home, "Don't buy drugs. Become a rock star, and then people give them to you for free!"

Being an ensemble, few of the actors really stand out as better than the rest of the cast (except for Nighy), but none of them stand out as being any worse, either. Every member of the cast is charming, and none of them are unlikeable. There isn't a villain in the bunch.

No one writes romantic comedies like Richard Curtis, and it's a pity he didn't have enough time to fully flesh out his characters (reportedly, over 60 minutes of film was cut for time restraints; if that's true, and if it ends up on a DVD, I'll be the first one in line to buy it). But these complaints are pointless in the face of such a joyous experience. You may not be able to completely overlook its flaws, but if you don't walk out uplifted and smiling, you must be an unfeeling zombie. Satan himself was at the screening I attended, and even he left happy.*

*Note: Actually, that's a lie. But it sure makes for a compelling argument, doesn't it?

© 2003 Matt Noller