Click here 3 and a half stars

Emma Thompson All you need
is love,
Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson and many others
charm us greatly in Richard Curtis' directorial debut

"Love Actually"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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Richard Curtis, writer and director of "Love Actually," is turning into the British equivalent of Frank Capra. With such charming movies as "Notting Hill," "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in his resumé, he is without peer when it comes to romantic comedies conceived in the UK. For those who are fond of British humor, Curtis was also a writer on both the "Bean" and "Blackadder" series, making him something of a cult figure here in the States.

McCutcheon, Grant, Thompson
McCutcheon, Grant, Thompson

Bill Nighly

Martine McCutcheon

Colin Firth, Lúcia Moniz
Firth, Moniz

Rowan Atkinson
On this, his directorial debut, he chooses a piece set in the month preceding and following Christmas, in the lives of several people that often intersect, and occasionally entwine. Curtis regular Hugh Grant is the newly elected Prime Minister, taking up residence at 10 Downing Street in a Britain which has become somewhat emasculated by its bullying cousin the United States, in the person of its boorish president (Billy Bob Thornton). The new PM makes a heroic stand for his country, earning the admiration of the entire nation, but finds himself falling for one of his assistants, the somewhat earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon, best known for her work in the English TV series "The Eastenders"). He finds love to be a distraction when running a country.

Simultaneously, a writer (Colin Firth), after finding his girlfriend in flagrante delicto with his own brother, hies himself to France to recover from his trauma, and to finish working on a crime novel. He gradually finds himself falling for his housekeeper (Lúcia Moniz), who speaks not a word of English - and he doesn't speak any Portugese. Naturally, they find a common language. For Daniel (Liam Neeson), the love of his life has been taken from him, leaving him with Sam, a stepson (Thomas Sangster) with whom he can barely communicate - until Sam reveals that he's fallen in love with the coolest girl in his class (Olivia Olson).

Karen (Emma Thompson), a friend of Daniel's, suspects her husband Harry (Alan Rickman) is cheating on her with his secretary (Sarah McDougall). And one of Harry's employees, American Sarah (Laura Linney) pines for fellow worker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), but can't get the gumption up to tell him what everyone around her knows; that she's dreadfully in love with him. She can't tell him because of the secret she carries around in her cell phone. Colin (Kris Marshall) dreams of going to America, where his charms might be better appreciated. And Just Judy and John (Joanna Page and Martin Freeman), who are love-scene stand-ins on a movie set, find that going through the motions of love are less exciting than simple conversation. All of this is set to the soundtrack of a has-been rock star (Bill Nighy) who is attempting a comeback with a dreadful Christmas song and with the indescribably beautiful backdrop of London at Christmastime.

There are several other vignettes as well, all skillfully interwoven by Curtis. Karen, for example, is the Prime Minister's sister; and many of the characters are in attendance at a wedding. The point is that love is all around us whether we see it or not, and it is skillfully brought home with bookending airport scenes of reunions, never more powerfully when narrator Grant intones "And to the best of my knowledge, none of the phone calls that came out of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, were messages of hate and revenge; they were all about love."

Ensemble dramas can be tricky even in the best of circumstances, but Curtis pulls it off admirably, never making any of the stories so dull or uninteresting that we wish for a fast-forward button in the theater. Neither does he give short shrift to any of his characters; all are developed nicely with their own sets of vulnerabilities and faults. Like most of Curtis' movies, "Love Actually" is charming throughout, and shows a remarkable insight into the human spirit, particularly as regards that emotion we call love, that is so fascinating yet so mysterious to most of us.

There are a lot of little touches, details that Curtis includes that make the movie more enjoyable. For example, Natalie, the focus of Prime Minister Grant's affections, resides at 102 Harris Street (get the number - Ten Two, like Ten Downing Street #2). And the Neeson character's dead wife had asked him to bring Claudia Schiffer to her funeral as his date, knowing that the supermodel was someone that her husband was attracted to; in the end, Neeson falls for someone played by Claudia Schiffer. There are other little things; possibly you will have to buy the DVD to pick up all of them, which may well be what the filmmaker intended.

The acting here is top-notch, as you would expect of a cast that includes the kind of talent mentioned above. I'm already a big fan of Grant, Rickman, Neeson and Thompson, but you can go ahead and add Firth to that list; with performances like the one here and also in "Bridget Jones' Diary," "Valmont" and "The Importance of Being Earnest," he's becoming one of those actors whose films I will make an effort to go out and see just because he's in them.

I saw this and "The Matrix Revolution" in the same day; let me tell you it's quite an experience, especially given the very different audiences that attended. The movie theater for "Love Actually" was filled with women aged 25-50, mostly with friends, sisters or moms (a few had dragged their husband/boyfriend sorts along with 'em) and the smell of perfume was actually a trifle overpowering. If I hadn't been in the company of Da Queen, I might have been a bit intimidated.

Still, "Love Actually" works in the same way "Notting Hill" works, in the same way "About a Boy" works and that is that love doesn't necessarily conquer all, but it makes things a hell of a lot more bearable. And while not every story that takes place in the movie ends happily, most end at least hopefully, because with love even in the bleakest of times, there is always hope. And maybe that in itself, is why love actually is all around.

This is a terrific date movie. Whether you choose to take your date to a dark theater for a bit of necking, or if you prefer the comforts of home for some passionate cuddling is completely up to you.

Buy the DVD.

See cast, credit and other details about "Love Actually" at Internet Movie Data Base.