Love Actually

Love Actually

**

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Oxford graduate who brought you Blackadder and Notting Hill has become the Chicago native who wrote She's Having A Baby and Home Alone.

Richard Curtis is John Hughes.

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Love Actually, with its Christmas cheer and sugar-coated banter, accentuates the fact. All that's missing is Macaulay Culkin in a Santa suit.

There was a time when Curtis possessed acerbic wit and people came out of Four Weddings And A Funeral creased with pleasure. He made Hugh Grant a star and helped Rowan Atkinson along the road to that moronic god of TV sitcoms, Mr Bean. Everything he touched turned to box-office profit. This will, too, because it's been hyped to the skies and is as soft as a girl's blouse. The soundtrack CD, stuffed with saccharine ballads you know you know, but just need reminding, cannot fail.

As an ensemble rom-com, its triviality is breathtaking. Admittedly, the genre is not renowned for depth, or insight, but to hire intelligent actors and leave them tied up with unoriginal plotlines, or drowning in gut-molten sentimentality, is a crime. Also, the jokes are terrible.

Men appear nervous around women. Grant's hapless guest in Four Weddings was no one-off. All the blokes here, with the exception of a laddish loser called Colin (Kurt Marshall) and the President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton), are tongue tied in front of girls. Curtis's humour is one of embarrassment, the foot-in-mouth monologue, the inability to say the right thing, romantic inadequacy from a male perspective, apologetic fumblings. It takes women like Karen (Emma Thompson) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) to get these guys to straighten up and fly straight.

There are 10 stories struggling to be told. None succeed, because there isn't time. Of these, two and a half are worth watching and the rest appear as one-gag flops, or sad snatches of nothing. Grant is unbelievable as the Prime Minister, displaying all the insecurities of his trademark persona. Colin Firth, as a novelist on the run from a bad marriage, is shy and awkward, like only he can be, and his not-quite-if-only liaison with a Portugese maid (Lucia Moniz), who can't speak English, brings up the goose bumps. Liam Neeson, as a widower, trying to cope with a lovesick stepson (excellent Thomas Sangster), is such a human actor that he could make tidying your room an enjoyable experience.

Laura Linney displays the traits of the Curtis menfolk and can't get it together with the best looking hunk in the office (Rodrigo Santoro). Bill Nighy repeats his ageing rocker role from Still Crazy, except this time he overdoes it. Keira Knightley[ has to look pretty as a young bride being stalked by her husband's best man (Andrew Lincoln) and Alan Rickman has to look bewildered when one of his secretaries (Heike Makatsch) makes a pass at him.

Thank God for Thompson, playing Grant's sister and Rickman's wife, and McCutcheon, as part of the catering staff at No 10, who catches the eye of the PM. These are real, warm, outspoken women, who should have had a word with Curtis, before he morphed into Hughes and sprinkled stardust in their eyes.

Love Actually is a regurgitated series of scenes to play records to. It feels middle-aged, lazy and reliant on stereotype.

Some people feel comfortable with that.

Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2003
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Frightfully English ensemble rom-com about middle-class, emotionally dysfunctional Londoners.
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