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LOVE ACTUALLY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Rowan Atkinson, Martine McCutcheon, Bill Nighy
Director: Richard Curtis
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2004

"And if you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion that love actually is all around."

Film ****

I will be the first to admit that the romance genre is hardly ever, for lack of a better phrase, my cup of tea. But there are several cases where I will be occasionally and immediately won over by the charm and absolute pleasant feeling generated by the proper film. In short, it ends up in being the sort of movie experience that, like the perfect loving relationship, you wish would never end.

Such is the case with Love Actually, which is possibly one of the best movies to ever emerge from the genre. With a strong and delightful cast of actors on board, this is bound to win over anyone, as long as they are willing to take a slightly different approach for this kind of movie. Writer/director Richard Curtis was the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones' Diary. I had only seen two of those films, and liking them while not labeling them as necessarily great pieces. With Love Actually, Curtis has clearly delivered his strongest piece of work to date.

The movie's story pattern is similar to that of Playing By Heart, another favorite romantic film of mine which was a most undervalued release. That movie told a story of contemporary love through a series of stories involving different characters in and around Los Angeles. The story concludes in a memorable and convincing manner by revealing that each of the characters is connected with each other. It's very easy for a story structure like this to lose the viewer in an instant, and yet both that film and Love Actually have made the impossible possible with such vibrant storytelling.

Set in glorious London, with just a matter of weeks before Christmas, the movie interweaves the dilemmas facing numerous characters. The cast is lead by Hugh Grant, in yet another winning performance, as the Britain's prime minister, and although this is in no way a reflection of Tony Blair, Grant makes the character thoroughly believable. Upon meeting the various staff members, he realizes a feeling of love at first sight when he meets his catering manager, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon).

Other intersecting stories include the following, and I'll make it my best to sum everything up. Writer Jamie (Colin Firth), has moved to a cottage in France after being cheated on, and discovers an unexpected attraction to his newly assigned maid, Aurelia (Lucia Monz). Newly widowed Daniel (Liam Neeson) takes up the task of raising his step son (Thomas Sangster), who soon admits to being in love with a classmate despite being only 11.

In addition, there's a dilemma facing the always-busy Karen (Emma Thompson), the prime minister's sister, who eventually comes to suspect her husband, Harry (Alan Rickman), of possible infidelity. Harry is also playing something of a matchmaker for his assistant, Susan (Laura Linney), whose crush on co-worker Carl (Rodrigo Santoro) has lingered around the workplace. 

Another crush develops when Mark (Andrew Lincoln), serving as the best man at the wedding for a long time friend, begins to feel strong feelings for the bride, Juliet (Keira Knightley), which would be considered a surprise based on the notion that everyone suspect he truly despised her and had a secret crush on his male friend/groom. Then there's young Colin (Kris Marshall), who's so fed up with stuck up English girls that he decides to fly over to America to illustrate a possibility that the hottest of American girls will become smitten with a brash Englishman in a heartbeat.

Oh, and I haven't even mentioned the one story angle that actually opens the film. It involves the comeback of has been rock star, and former heroin addict, Billy Mack (Bill Nighy). The singer's rebirth comes as a result of his Christmas take on the pop song, "Love is All Around". Even as the song is taken over the airwaves, Mack doesn't even hesitate to say, while promoting the single, that it's the biggest pile of crap he's ever recorded. There's no doubt in my mind that the basis for this character was both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

With all these stories intertwining, it's simply amazing how the film doesn't go off track for a second. The editing is without a doubt quite masterful, as the intersecting stories seem to check in at just the right time. And although it may seem as if the movie has a series of happy endings, they are each worthy of co-existing in such a delightful, multi-layered piece. The final two moments, involving a Christmas eve music production and Jamie's confession of love to his maid, are especially well handled.

The simple truth is that this movie is nothing short of a wonderful movie delight. I seriously feel that anyone, be it a fan of romantic films or an all out resister of them, will find it absolutely hard to resist. After all, this review should illustrate that point clearly. I normally don't go for love stories, and I'm giving it a four star rating. It's also important to note that the joyful feeling that Love Actually injects is one that a lot of today's films don't seem to produce. And believe me, that's Actually saying something.

BONUS TRIVIA: As if the cast wasn't already jammed packed with famous faces, look for brief pop up appearances from the likes of Shannon Elizabeth, Elisha Cuthbert, Denise Richards, Claudia Schiffer and Billy Bob Thorton as the U.S. President whose name could very much be considered George W. Clinton, if you could imagine that.

Video ****

Universal, already enjoying an impressive track record for the year in terms of transfers, soars once again with a much glorious looking presentation. The anamorphic picture is ever so strong in terms of clarity and detail (London has never looked more beautiful). It seems as if every single shot was given the utmost amount of attention. It certainly appears that way because there is not a bit of flaw in the presentation. Colors are especially engaging on the eyes. Just like the film itself, the look of the movie is nothing short of a superb delight. A full screen version is also available.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is a quite serviceable audio track, and then some, for a movie of this type. With dialogue serving as the driving force of the film, and the word delivery is impeccably sharp as a blade, there's also a heavy dose of music, which gives the presentation a much welcome boost. With the likes of such artists as Maroon 5, The Beach Boys, Dido and Kelly Clarkson, to name a few, providing musical contributions, the sound range is lifted up a notch or two as a result. In other words, as good as this kind of film can get on the format, and a bit more.

Features **1/2

Not too heavy, while at the same time not too light. The disc includes a commentary track with writer/director Richard Curtis and stars Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and Thomas Sangster. There is also a group of deleted scenes with an into by Curtis, a music video for Kelly Clarkson's song "The Trouble With Love Is", and a brief look at some of the pivotal music choices for the movie, titled "The Music of Love Actually".

Summary:

If anything, Love Actually is definite proof that the romantic comedy can result in a most superb offering, and Richard Curtis, along with the marvelous cast, has done just that. This is one joyous film that truly deserves the labeling of "feel-good", or Actually, "feel-great"!