Love Actually (UK, 2003) ***1/2
Written & directed by Richard Curtis. Produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Dun Kenworthy et al. Photography, Michael Coulter. Editing, Nick Moore. Production design, Jim Clay. Music, Craig Armstrong. Cast: see text. A Universal release. 128 minutes. Rated R (sex and language)
"Potpourri," a word of many uses, has a culinary ancestry which means a hodge-podge of ingredients. One of its kissin' cousins is the term "Russian Salad"which has little or nothing to do with with Russia, but, in Europe, means a special mix of vegetables - and by extension, of anything, but is mostly familiar for a collection of musical pieces.
The British film "Love Actually" is a cinematic pot-pourri of relationships. Its semi-cryptic title has a possible double meaning: an abbreviation of (the quoted) "Love actually is all around" and "Love in our time." It is interesting to note the performers' ages since this is certainly not your usual teen or twenty-something movie.
It is the first feature ever directed by Richard Curtis, the writer of, among others, the original and most popular "Four Weddings and a Funeral," the ho-hum "Notting Hill, " the excellent "Bridget Jones's Diary," and a profusion of chapters for such TV series as "Mr. Bean," "Blackadder," "The Vicar of Dibley."
It is Christmas-time in London. We are offered about eight or nine strands of various types of love affairs in mix and match zig-zag fashion. The love subjects/objects include bachelor Hugh Grant (43) as the boyish, newly elected Prime Minister who falls for staff member Martine McCutcheon. Businessman Alan Rickman (b. 1946) who is married to Emma Thompson (44) and has a tentative (?) affair with his secretary Heike Makatsch. Rickman's high-ranking employee Laura Linney (39) who is too timidly in love with her colleague Rodrigo Santoro ((24). Bill Nighy (54) a pop singer in decline. Kris Marshall (29) who travels to Milwaukee "to get laid" (he does, by three bimbo roommates). Liam Neeson (51) a sad widower whose beloved, precocious stepson Sam (about 11) has a passion for drums and for a classmate-and who speaks like a grownup of his "total agony of being in love." (The kid is Mr. Grant's cousin).
In addition to the many London settings (plus Milwaukee) there are some in southern France, where writer Colin Firth (43) falls in love and proposes to his Portuguese cleaning-woman (singer-actress Lucia Moniz). Also, visiting from the States is American President Billy Bob Thornton (sic!) All that is a fraction of a huge cast. The stories and episodes intercut; the characters seem to have just one or two degrees of separation from each other ; scenes and sequences abound. The stories skip around in colorful, often amusingly exaggerated ways. What roughly ties them together are the speeches by cheeky, often funny-vulgar Bill Nighy who addresses the public in ways not too distant from those of Chorus in Shakespearean plays.
There are many moments of solid mirth. Other moments are like puzzles. Cellphones keep buzzing and interrupting a variety of situations. In a clear minority are scenes of sadness, notably when Emma Thompson who rummaging her spouse's pockets discovers an expensive pendant, finds out on Christmas Day that it was not a gift for her, but for the man's secretary. What she gets is a CD. (Earlier, there was comedy as Rickman tried to keep the purchase quick and secret, and was slowed down by funny salesman Rowan Atkinson, aka "Mr. Bean").
Many sections of the movie beggar verisimilitude yet they entertain. Such as a most professional, lavish, musically impressive Christmas concert given by schoolchildren. Such as the romance between the writer and his cleaning-lady: when they meet again, quite comically, suddenly she speaks English and he knows Portuguese!
The film has received mixed reviews --from high praise to strong rejection. I confess that while watching it I felt it was certainly OK but not more. Then, in retrospect it became a clear winner with many more plusses. No actress is a perfect beauty. Some of them --up to a point --show their age , and that's a Hollywood no-no. The movie does not hypocritically hide nudity, notably in scenes where a couple of stand-ins rehearse for a porno movie while chatting about daily trivia. "Love Actually" is inventive , often realistically cynical, and it avoids traditional sentimentality, which, in our times, makes romantic comedies hard to believe in. The language is strong but not scatological. The strong visuals include nice views of a fake10 Downing Street, real restaurants, stores, cafes, a variety of interiors, parties and the like. Keep an eye out for future Richard Curtis movies.