Shiny Shelf

Love Actually

By J Clive Matthews on 01 December 2003

Though amazingly not as mind-numbingly awful as one might have thought, Richard Curtis’ latest still has incredible levels of both corn and cheese. Then again, that’s the whole point.

A disparate collection of mini love stories loosely interconnected via seemingly random relationships between characters in different plot strands, this is hardly a great piece of complex storytelling. Then again, I doubt many people going to see this film would be expecting a London-set version of ‘LA Story’. The majority of the audience (female, with a few reluctant boyfriends dragged along for the ride) are there purely for a re-hash of ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Notting Hill’ and so on. On that front, the film delivers exactly what is demanded, although with a hefty dose of anti-Americanism which, it appears, has already doomed it to fail in the world’s largest movie-market.

Of course, when Rowan Atkinson turns up (only a couple of brief cameos), some people might remember the good old days of ‘Blackadder’, when both Atkinson and writer/director Curtis were at their height. Throughout the entire course of this long film, only one line harks back to those glory days of BBC television comedy, and it seems more like a bad pastiche than anything genuinely funny.

This is my only real complaint – the dialogue is unimaginative and mostly witless, the comedy all stemming from highly contrived set-ups. Richard Curtis used to be one of Britain’s best comic writers; now he has descended to formulaic, sentimental farce, recklessly messing with his audiences until they all start to laugh and cry at exactly the right moments, despite the self-evidently shallow characterisation and utter lack of depth.

That may sound like a major complaint, but in fact the movie works pretty well. I may resent being wrapped so blatantly around the writer/director’s little finger, but then I knew that would be the case, as does everyone when it comes to these kinds of films. You have to take this for what it is, which is the sort of movie you’ll allow yourself to get dragged to by the missus of a weekend to show you’re a kind, sensitive type, and then get manipulated by the Disney-style schmaltz into having to hide your emotional responses behind a manly fa?ade.

Unless, of course, you’re a patriotic American, in which case you’ll probably end up so offended by the end of the first reel or so that you’ll have stormed out in disgust at the utterly implausible anti-US diatribe that Prime Minister Hugh Grant ends up spouting.

But let us not forget that these films are never really meant to be plausible in the first place – it’s all wish-fulfilment fantasies for single women and girlfriends who wish their bloke was a bit more like Colin Firth/Hugh Grant/Andrew Lincoln/whichever other ’stereotypical’ shy Englishman happens to be on screen at any given moment. The trick is to just sit back and let it wash past, knowing that if you make it through the missus will be emotionally drained putty in your hands…

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By J Clive Matthews

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