Love Actually (2003)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually (2003)

So If You Really Love Christmas

Last time I checked Christmas only comes once a year but that doesn't stop Christmas movie "Love Actually" cropping up on TV through out the year. Not that I am complaining as "Love Actually" is one of those charming British Christmas movies which has a sentimental warmth, a cast of well known faces, a good soundtrack and some cheeky humour which makes it fun to watch. Of course being a Richard Curtis movie it is undeniably his style and if the likes of his previous movies "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Notting Hill" failed to make you smile then "Love Actually" probably won't either.

So if you are yet to watch "Love Actually" you won't know that it is built up of a series of storylines which creatively and fancifully link together in some far fetched ways. In a way it all starts with the new British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) falling for his tea lady (Martine McCutcheon). His sister (Emma Thompson) is begining to question whether her husband (Alan Rickman) is cheating on her with the attractive secretary (Heike Makatsch) from work and then there is the work colleague who is loyal to her handicapped brother to the point it ruins her chance at finding love. And there is much more as we have storylines involving a couple of stand in actors on a movie, to a man who moons after a woman who has just got married to his best friend.

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually (2003)

The thing is with "Love Actually" is that with so many storylines going on, and I believe there are 8 of them which interlink, none of them are ever fully focussed upon, delivering glimpses at these various relationships, the issues and the way they progress. There literally is enough basic material in these little storylines to make several more developed movies from each of them, yet Richard Curtis who wrote as well as directed "Love Actually" makes it all work, not so much naturally but in the way they link together gives it a continuous feel. The fact that a character prominent in one story is somehow connected to another makes it all gel rather than just a series of storylines which never relate to each other.

It also helps that each of these storylines focuses on a different aspect of love and unlike in most movies it is not always an overly romanticized version of it. Relationships fail, love is lost and also longed after but somehow, and I honestly don't know how, Curtis manages to make each of these different aspects feel slightly real and heart warming. When one character learns that her husband is having an affair after receiving a Joni Mitchell CD as a present rather than the necklace she found there is a sense of realism about it but in the way she deals with it is touching. It is this fine touch which allows you to both connect to the various storylines but also enjoy them thanks to Curtis's light, humorous touch. Some may not like this but for me it allows "Love Actually" to be both real yet heart warming as well as fun.

What Curtis does exceptionally well in "Love Actually" is to play with our emotions, if somewhat a little obviously at times. He manages to take us from one minute shedding tears of joy to tears of sadness as the various storylines enter and depart especially with one storyline about a widowed father struggling to cope with a young son. Some may say this is quite a cynical attempt to make "Love Actually" more than it is, but it makes the movie work and stops it feeling flat as the emotions are the key to enjoying it fully.

In between all these emotional moments there is always the humour, even in the saddest of moments there is something to bring a smile to your face such as at a funeral the departed's choice of music included the Bay City Rollers "Bye Bye Baby" one of many great songs which make up the "Love Actually" soundtrack. The great thing is that although it lightens the mood it doesn't destroy the emotional feel of the scene often enhancing it.

At the other end of the scale the humour you could say is balls out, especially as one of the storylines focuses on a couple of stand-ins for a movie who fall in love whilst acting out sex scenes as the production team set up the cameras and lighting around them. What is strange is that the different tones in humour actually work and take you on a journey from smiling to laughing out loud. But again even the most over the top and orchestrated of gags doesn't feel wrong, it may not feel natural but gives the movie a magical feel such as the scene at a wedding when members of the congregation pull out musical instruments and start playing "All You Need is Love". This sort of thing doesn't happen but there is no reason why it shouldn't.

What is strange and what may put some people off is that there is a surprising sexual undertone to "Love Actually" which may be Curtis trying to tell us about the confusion between love and sex, who knows. But with the couple of movie stand-ins who spend time naked whilst filming erotic scenes, an art gallery which features several pseudo-erotic paintings, an aging singer and his suggestive pop videos as well as a young man heading to the states to get laid there is a lot of sexuality to "Love Actually". For me it really isn't much of an issue but it is worth considering when sitting down to watch as a family.

In amongst the various storylines and a strong reason why "Love Actually" is so good is the wonderful characters which Richard Curtis has created. Like with his other movies, the characters are more caricature like than real people often emphasising certain aspects of their persona but in each of them there is something that is easily identifiable which helps to make them believable. As for the acting well there are no bad performances from a plethora of well known stars mainly British; Hugh Grant is surprisingly enjoyable as the new Prime Minister (sit back and enjoy Hugh Grant dancing), whilst Martine McCutcheon is equally surprisingly effective as his obviously pleasant tea lady. There is of course a token child, as is often the case with romantic comedies and Thomas Sangster does an impressive job of not being the annoying child which generally dominate these sorts of movies. Probably for me the stand out performance has to be Liam Neeson who is both touching and amusing as the recently widowed father.

Plus of course "Love Actually" features a very prominent soundtrack and delivers the slightly annoying "Christmas Is All Around" a variation on "Love is All Around Us" although as it is a prominent part of the storyline it is forgivable, just. Unsurprisingly there are both strong elements of Love and Christmas when it comes to the soundtrack with pieces such as "All I want for Christmas" and "The Trouble With Love Is". But the most memorable has to be when Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister dances along to the Pointer Sisters "Jump".

What this all boils down to is that "Love Actually" is a wonderfully British and entertaining christmas movie that will have you both crying and laughing. At 135 minutes it is a little long but with so many storylines going on it never feels drawn out or dull. Plus with it being set during the build up to Christmas it works equally well as both a Christmas movie as well as romance movie for Valentines Day.

Tags: Christmas Movies, British Romantic Comedies