Saccharine, Actually

Love, Actually (dir. Richard Curtis)

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (writer of Four Weddings, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones, Blackadder &c.) Love, Actually interweaves nine or so stories supposedly illustrating different types of love, la Short Cuts. It’s also a tribute to British actors, more of whom seemed to be present than absent.

Alan Rickman & Emma Thompson play a couple who love each other but the spark has gone, whose marriage is threatened by the arrival of a potential mistress. The most poignant scene of the film is Thompson retiring to the bedroom to cry when she realises that the necklace she thought her husband was going to give her for Christmas has instead been given to his secretary, and Rickman’s portrayal of the guilty-yet-tempted husband is subtle and thoughtful. The rambunctious story of Hugh GrantTM, the bachelor Prime Minister lusting after his tea lady, has no subtlety at all, but its comic energy makes it very watchable. Bill Nighy as the ageing rock star putting out a remake of his hit as a Christmas song adds a welcome darker note, and is extremely well acted and scripted. A few of the minor stories are also good: Keira Knightley as the bride whose best man is in love with her; two porn film actors who find a shy and gentle romance amidst the simulated bonking.

The whole, however, somehow feels less than the sum of the parts. I had expected the stories to weave together more closely but, although there are a few links here and there, they mainly feel incidental rather than organic. Far too few of the characters really take shape as characters; it’s notable that I can’t remember the character names. Although their pairings encompass various situations -- love across class barriers, love across language barriers &c -- the format doesn't allow the stories to stretch to give the details that would make these situations real. Even though a few stories have sad endings, the overall tone is far too saccharine, with far too few surprises.

8 December 2003