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:: Love Actually

Being released at Christmas is perfect for this film which is dipped in lots of feel-good sentiment. You may feel as though it’s overdone in this goodwill and romanticism, but Love Actually is the appealing type of film to step from the old year to a new year of happiness and optimism.

The director Richard Curtis creates the inner glow of several stories in one and there is magic in the romances that evolve. This is his first film as a director yet his screenwriting credits, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, make a fine CV. He was keen to create an uplifting heartwarmer and his various stories range in tone from bitter, sweet, sad, and happy. He chose an ensemble cast to showcase the mostly domesticated Briton although it can sometimes be difficult to spend enough time with each interesting character.

The engaging stories are built around a “central romance” between the British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) and his attractive assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). Other couples include writer Jamie (Colin Firth) and his Portuguese maid Aurelia; the PM’s sister Karen (Emma Thompson) and her husband Harry (Alan Rickman); Susan (Laura Linney) and a younger co-worker Carl. Others to provide some delightful input are ageing pop star Billy Mac (Bill Nighy) and department store worker (Rowan Atkinson). And there are two stand0ins working on a porno film shoot who engage in a somewhat shy courtship.

The story is about many forms of love: between siblings, between parents & children, between spouses, puppy love, and sexual/romantic love. It has a ring of the Paul Thomas Anderson style but not quite up to that depth. However, this film is mostly well executed and it will be generally met with enjoyment for the sentimentality.

As far as the individual characters are concerned, several stand out. Bill Nighy, as the lean, wrinkly pop star has been trying to make a comeback and returns with a sappy Christmas song after refusing to play the normal PR game. He ultimately achieves the prized No.1 Christmas song in the UK. Hugh Grant has the right look for the modern day British PM and his “silly antics” are recycled but still likeable. His character is given a push by the association of the US President (Billy Bob Thornton). Pop singer Martine McCutcheon is a pleasant surprise in her supporting role while Keira Knightley glows on screen as the newlywed. Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman are also excellent.

The soundtrack is well chosen. Billy’s No.1 song is a reworking of The Troggs’ classic hit “Love Ia All Around” and that typifies the spirit of the film, while two all-time classics are welcomed: the brilliant Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows” and The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”. Other tracks to note are “Bye Bye Baby” (Bay City Rollers), “Here With Me” (Dido), and “Like I Love You (Justin Timberlake).

Love Actually is worthy in exploring the bitterness as well as the sweetness of life, and is complex and multi-layered. The film has something for everyone. In a world of occasional distress and unhappiness, millions of people fall in love every day. It’s the perfect film for the end-of-year holiday season.