Universal Pictures, part of the troubled Vivendi corporate empire, pulls out all the stops for its Christmas entry, Love Actually, even though it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. Packed with star power, attractive kids, golden oldies of pop music, and glittering vistas of London at Christmas time, it’s about love blocked and love released, love lost and love found, old love, young love, family love, friends’ love, sweet love and bittersweet love. Universal would love it if this review were left at that–a promise of comedy and romance for the whole family at the holidays.
But every Christmas scenario has a Scrooge and this one is writing the review. For starters, you don’t want to bring the kids unless you want them to see an apparently nude couple acting in front of the cameras for a film and making small talk while they simulate sex in several variations. It isn’t the least bit lascivious, but it isn’t the least bit amusing either. So much for the family entertainment angle.
Eight separate stories (and a few minor asides) are intertwined so that the paths of the participants cross at various points–an office Christmas party, a school’s Christmas show, the airport. But there are little other than artificial and ever-so-slight linkages amongst the different sets of characters and their stories seem ironed on rather than woven together. There’s the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant doing Hugh Grant yet again) attracted to his tea lady. His sister, Karen (Emma Thompson) is married to Harry (Alan Rickman), the sexual target of predatory Mia, an employee in Harry’s office. Also working in the office are Sarah (Laura Linney, poorly made up) who is in love with a fellow-worker, Karl, who seems hardly aware of Sarah’s existence.
A good friend of Karen’s is Daniel (Liam Neeson), who recently lost his wife and is in mourning. His barely pubescent son, Sam (Thomas Sangster), is suffering from an acute attack of precociousness, exhibiting all the signs of adult heartsickness in his apparently unrequited love for classmate Joanna (Olivia Olson), who gives the impression of a refugee from American Idol.
Then there’s a writer, Jamie (Colin Firth) who walks in on his wife and his own brother getting it on. He runs off to France to nurse his wounds only to fall for his Portuguese housekeeper who speaks no English. Meanwhile, Mark is in love with his best friend’s bride, Colin decides to run off to Wisconsin to get laid, and over-the-hill rock star, Billy, goes out of his way to be as obnoxious as possible under all circumstances. Writer-director Richard Curtis has not quite reached the low of bringing in cute animals, though the rest of the goings on lead to such expectations.
There are enough characters here to populate a dozen movies, but not enough imagination for one. None of the characters is given enough time to develop into more than a snippet of plot; only the charm of the cast keeps them at all alive on screen. Little happens to any of them to motivate or instigate changes of character and most of the plot lines are as predictable as heartburn after Christmas dinner. The jokes, thin at best, lean heavily on self-deprecation as humor.