Love Actually (2003)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 12/13/12
Written And Directed By: Richard Curtis
Cast: Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Laura Linney, Andrew Lincoln, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Sienna Guillory, Joanna Page, Martine McCutcheon, Alan Rickman, Lucia Moniz, Heike Makatsch, Kris Marshall, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Ivana Milicevic, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Denise Richards, Claudia Schiffer

"Let's get the shit kicked out of us by love."

That pretty much sums up this seasonal romance, which takes eight interrelated relationships and puts them through the emotional wringer during the five weeks before Christmas. Hugh Grant plays the newly elected Prime Minister of England who falls in love with one of his subordinates (Martine McCutcheon). Liam Neeson is a grieving widower trying to emotionally connect with his son. Andrew Lincoln torments himself over his silent and unrequited love for Keira Knightley. Emma Thompson fears that her husband (Alan Rickman) is having a fling with his sexy secretary (Heike Makatsch). Colin Firth leaves his cheating girlfriend to spend some time in the country and falls in love with his housekeeper (Lucia Moniz) who doesn't speak English. Perpetual loser Kris Marshall decides that the answer to all of his problems lies in America and flies to Wisconsin to find love. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page find love on a movie set as body doubles. Slightly neurotic Laura Linney lusts after one of her coworkers, but family obligations ruin any chance of her having a normal dating life. And then there's aging rock star Bill Nighy, who makes a desperate money-grubbing attempt to top the charts with a new holiday single.

I don't know why they call this "romantic comedy." "Romantic horror" seems much more appropriate, given all the pain, suffering, and humiliation that these characters go through. With so many relationships on display, all of the major clichés are hit, leaving the audience wide open for extreme emotional manipulation. I can't stand films like this, and as a hyper-sensitive person it has taken weeks for me to work through all of the emotional aftershocks. That said, I have to acknowledge that it's a very well made film with a phenomenal cast. The plot is overly contrived, but the interleaving story threads help keep things interesting. Most of the film boils down to incredibly gorgeous women falling hopelessly in love with average and unassuming older men, with the exception of Laura Linney's character. Interestingly, Linney is the only one who doesn't have a happy ending, which is a discouraging commentary on the older woman with a younger man dynamic. Bill Nighy's character plays it mostly for laughs and helps lighten the tone of the film. Kris Marshall's character is also in it for laughs, but his preposterous tale about having sex with hot American girls leaves a bad taste. You really want to see this asshole completely destroyed by the end of the film, and he actually comes out on top. The sweetest and most sincere relationship turns out to be with Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, as it's the only one that remains untainted by ugliness.

Billed as "the ultimate romantic comedy", it may be just that. However, its laundry list approach to including every hallmark of the genre may come across as clinical and insincere. At the very least, you can simply enjoy all of the big name actors and ogle the wonderful eye candy that's on display.