Romance, laughter and tears blend seamlessly in Love Actually, a fast-paced movie about the agony and ecstasy of love -- as experienced by several colorful characters during the five weeks before Christmas. Don't worry, a large ensemble cast, which includes Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman, enhances rather than detracts from the film's universal LOVE theme.
I've never been a fan of movies focusing on numerous characters. Even the highly acclaimed Magnolia and Short Cuts left me wondering what everyone was raving about. But I quickly became infatuated with Love Actually and actually fell in love with more than one of its protagonists. Fickle of me, I know. Still, how could anyone resist Grant as an unmarried British Prime Minister who, after meeting an appealing new staff member (delightful newcomer Martine McCutcheon), dances down the stairs when he thinks no one is watching? Or Firth, playing a writer enamored of his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) and struggling valiantly to communicate with her? Or Rickman as a boss tying not to cheat on his intelligent, charming wife of many years (Thompson) while being tempted by one of the sexiest executive assistants in filmdom (Heike Makatech)? Or Liam Neeson, portraying a bereaved husband involved in his 9-year-old stepson's (Thomas Sangster) plan to win the girl of his dreams? Or . . . well, you see what I mean.
At the screening I attended, other members of the audience felt the same way. It's the first time I've heard people go "Ahhhhh" out loud over a movie kiss. That happened when Firth (who gets better and better with each movie, if that's possible) finally buzzed his lovely housekeeper. And, with the exception of a horror film, I've never heard viewers shout out "No. Don't do that!" -- but it occurred here when a character stopped making love to answer the phone. That warning went to Linney in the middle of her steamy scene with younger colleague Rodrigo Santoro. Obviously, nobody wanted anything to interfere with this love-starved couple getting together.
Those are the stories I became most emotionally involved in. However, others also held my interest -- including the one featuring Andrew Lincoln as a man steeling himself against strong feelings for his best friend's (Chiwetel Ejiofor) gorgeous wife (Knightley) and another showcasing two surprisingly shy body-doubles for sexually explicit movie scenes.
Although everyone in this great ensemble cast is terrific, I think Emma Thompson stands out. I hope she receives another Oscar nomination for her emotional roller-coaster performance. Consider how, in one scene, she changes in the blink of an eye from crying copious tears to expressing enthusiasm for a family outing. Very impressive! And yet, I laughed the most at Bill Nighy's antics as a faded and sarcastic rock star who makes a comeback by recording a ridiculous Christmas version of "Love is All Around."
With Love Actually, first-time director Richard Curtis (screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) has given adult moviegoers an early Holiday treat. All his characters may not live happily ever after, but his joyous film reminds us that "love is all around." Not a bad message for the Christmas season.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "R" for sexuality, nudity and language. Reviewed after a Sneak Preview on November 1.)