Movie Review IX: Love Actually
Standing in line for Elf, I eavesdropped on the two loud high school girls behind me. They were on their cell phones of course, and they were going to see Love Actually. When they finally got to the front of the line, they noticed that the marquee had been blinking “FULL” – one of them joked, “Ha, let’s just see Elf.” I took my Elf ticket, got it clipped, and followed the teller’s directions to enter Theater 4. The marquee here had blinking lights, too. For 5 seconds the number of the theater would glow; then it would switch to the name of the movie. Had I waited around, I would have realized I was seeing Love Actually. Instead, I watched scenes of people hugging each other in Heathrow Airport, listened to Hugh Grant’s narration about “11 September,” and realized no one was going to prance onscreen in green pantyhose. So I stayed. Good decision.
I want to say this is a collection of four-star movie ideas that result in a three-star movie. It’s packed with little romantic comedy moments that obviously made writer/director Richard Curtis punch the air and say “WOO!” when he thought them up – a surprise post-nuptial performance of “All You Need is Love” (audience members get up and play instruments), a guy declaring his love to a married woman with flash cards (the key phrase is “to me you are perfect”), Colin Firth and his housekeeper diving into a lake to rescue his manuscript. Probably the best moment in the movie actually surpasses this predictable stuff – one character proposes in broken Portuguese, and the subtitles reflect his bad grammer (“We can inhabit here or we can in England inhabit”). Then the girl responds in broken English.
But what is there to Love Actually besides really good scenes? Hm. The thing is, Curtis cut his teeth writing plotless, brilliant episodes of “Blackadder” for the BBC. His dialogue has always stood on its own, bantered between airy (but not boring) characters, and his endings are always either happy or ironically funny. That’s all there is – dialogue and endings. I guess my favorite aspect of this particular effort is that, of the 10 interlocking plots, at least two end inconclusively, and we’re allowed to wonder if the characters will coexist in enternal bliss, or if they won’t. Compare this to the “everything is perfect and we all have money!” ending in Notting Hill, and you’ll see which movie’s more successful.