Written and Directed by Richard Curtis
This film is the story of the intertwining lives of several individuals leading up to Christmas day.
Quite possibly one of my favorite romantic comedies as well as a fantastic holiday film. It is set at Christmas but is not necessarily a Christmas film. You can take it as a Christmas movie, but Christmas is not integral to the plot. Take Christmas out and you could still have the same story set at any other time of the year.
The film focuses overall on love. The love of friends. The love of our children. The love of family. And of course, romantic love. This is expressed through a set of mostly connected storylines. These are:
Billy Mack and Joe
Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is a has-been rock and roll legend able to exist off his fame but who has not had a hit in quite some time. His longtime manager and reluctant friend Joe (Gregor Fisher) has convinced him to record a Christmas themed version of The Troggs’ classic “Love Is All Around” where they swap out a handful of words with the word Christmas. Neither have any illusions about its quality, especially Billy Mack, but Joe is convinced it will be a holiday hit. Billy Mack has been filling his life with all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll one would expect but in the end, while at a party at Sir Elton John’s house on Christmas Eve, he realizes he should be spending Christmas with someone he loves and that is Joe.
I do love what they do with the song. I hate to admit it, but it works as a Christmas song even if it works badly. And I suppose that is the point.
This story is about the love for a friend. The relationship with Joe is the only meaningful relationship Billy Mack has had in his life and understands that this platonic love is something worth experiencing at Christmas. The moment when Billy shows up at Joe’s is a quirky heartfelt moment that works.
Juliet, Peter, and Mark
Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is close friends with Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) but does not necessarily get along with his bride Juliet (Keira Knightley). Juliet, wanting to be friends with Mark as well and wishing to get the footage of her wedding which kicked the film off, goes over to his place. It is there after seeing the raw wedding footage that she learns Mark has been cold to her as an act of preservation as he is in love with her and does to wish to hurt his friend Peter.
In a now oft referenced and parodied scene, Mark shows up on Peter and Juliet’s doorstep with a boombox in order to make it sound as if there are carolers. He then begins to show cue cards which he is using to express his feelings without expectation that she will return them. The scene ends with Mark walking away and Juliet giving him a quick kiss before going back inside.
This is a great story concerning unrequited love and the ending is a great cap on the story that leaves all the characters in a better place. It feels genuine even if it is a bit contrived. I just do not buy that Peter might not briefly glance at the door to see the carolers.
Jamie and Aurelia
This is perhaps my favorite. It is among the sweetest and fits well into the romantic comedy genre.
Jamie (Colin Firth) is a writer. He is pushed by his unnamed girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) to attend Juliet and Peter’s wedding alone since she sick. Jamie returns between the ceremony and reception to see how she is and finds out she is cheating on him with his brother. Jamie travels to his French cottage. There he meets a Portuguese housekeeper named Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz). She cannot speak English and he cannot speak Portuguese but through their actions they develop an attraction to each other. Even though one cannot understand the other they at times hesitantly express their thoughts and feelings as if they are dancing around the subject with someone that understood.
After returning to England Jamie realizes he loves Aurelia and begins learning Portuguese (poorly) in order to declare his love. The scene where he goes back to France to express his feelings is hilarious and heartwarming.
I am personally very taken with the ending with the Aurelia. It is goofy and sweet. It makes me want to cry it is that good. And I am not often emotionally moved by movies. In fact being on the verge of an emotional reaction due to a film or television show is exceedingly rare.
David and Natalie
David (Hugh Grant) is the newly elected Prime Minister and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) is a junior member of the Downing Street staff. There is an obvious attraction between the two yet neither acts in any way on it until the arrival of the philandering US President (Billy Bob Thornton) when he is caught making a pass at Natalie. After being unusually assertive against the president’s policies, he has Natalie moved to a position away from him.
Then he finds her card to him on Christmas Eve declaring her feelings and this leads to a hilarious door to door search of her neighborhood (he is not sure exactly where she lives) so he can talk. She and her family are on their way to a local Christmas pageant and David so they can speak gives her a ride. The ending to all this is charmingly cliché as there are awkward moments as they both deal with those they know until they finally sneak off to where they think they are completely alone only to find themselves on the play stage.
There was a little bit of a brouhaha when Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister declared independence from American foreign policy. Out of context it seems like an anti-American bit but in the context of the film it is more of the character being pissed off at the President of the United States going after someone he was attracted to. He was a jealous guy reacting.
Hugh Grant is in his element here. This is the type of character in a romantic plot that he handles well. Charmingly befuddled is his thing. Martine McCutcheon shines as the object of his feelings who is perhaps a bit more brave in that she took a (safe) chance by sending a card he might possibly never see.
Daniel, Sam, Joanna, and Carol
Daniel (Liam Neeson) is a widowed father raising his stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster) after the death of his wife Joanna. His son has developed a crush on an American girl in his class also named Joanna (Olivia Olson). Sam, after speaking with Daniel, learns to play the drums in order to accompany Joanna in the same pageant that David and Natalie will eventually show up at.
After the pageant, Sam feels he failed to impress Joanna who is returning to the US on Christmas Eve so Daniel and Sam race to the airport at Daniel’s suggestion so Sam can express his feelings otherwise he will regret it for the rest of his life. He gets past security and after saying “Hi” receives a kiss on the cheek of Joanna.
There is a running gag through this storyline that Daniel will only begin dating again if the woman looks like Claudia Schiffer and Daniel eventually runs into a parent of one of Sam’s classmates who is played by Ms. Schiffer.
Neeson is so identified with action it is unusual to see him genuinely act. He is great as a widow trying to figure out what to do. More importantly his actions are that of a genuinely supportive father. He is believable as a dad. You can forget that he is a serious talent because he so often plays the tough guy in action films. I am not taking a swipe at him. I enjoy his work, but the stuff of his that gets the most attention is not the stuff where his talent is the most on display. Here he is an awkward father trying to raise a child.
John and Judy
John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) are professional movie stand-ins who meet while standing in during a sex scene. They find they have a genuine connection and begin to cautiously pursue a relationship that culminates in the film with them going to the Christmas pageant. There they find that while comfortable around each other naked, they are awkward when clothed.
It is perhaps the sillier of the story premises and executions (and that is saying something here) but it is also very sweet. The kicker is when asked at the pageant how they met and all they can do is stammer.
Sarah, Karl and Michael
Sarah (Laura Linney) is friends with Jamie who works at a graphic design firm and has a long-term crush on the firm’s creative director Karl (Rodrigo Santoro). Eventually the connect at the company’s Christmas party and return to her home where the wanted tryst is interrupted be her mentally ill brother Michael.
This is my least favorite of the storylines because it goes nowhere. It is about the love of your siblings. Personally I think it should have skipped the Karl character and focused on just Sarah and Michael. It would have created something more meaningful and perhaps even poignant.
Harry, Karen and Mia
Harry (Alan Rickman) is the managing director of the graphic design firm Sarah works at and is married to David’s sister Karen (Emma Thompson). He has a new secretary in Mia (Heike Makatsch) who is overtly sexual towards him. After a flirtatious time at the company Christmas party, he buys Mia a necklace which his wife discovers and thinks it is for her only to receive on Christmas a Joni Mitchell CD.
This is perhaps the saddest of all the storylines. It is about an idiot screwing up love. Nothing actually happens between Harry and Mia but that IT Could is what causes an issue. It had been a bit since I had seen the late Alan Rickman take on anything like this and he was very good as the wannabe philanderer.
Ms. Thompson was excellent but only after her character discovered what was going on. You felt the pain and humiliation and could feel for her as she struggled to put on a good face for others in her time of crisis.
Rufus (Rowan Atkinson) has no romantic plot of his own but is important in two of the stories and it is Rowan Atkinson so how can we not mention him? In “Harry, Karen, and Mia” he is a jewelry salesman that is obsessive over wrapping the necklace that Harry has bought for Mia. His obsession almost leads to Harry getting caught by Karen at the store.
In “Daniel, Sam, Joanna, and Carol” he distracts airport security so Sam can sneak by to see Joanna. He is sweet and charming in both cases and just very entertaining. That’s it.
Colin Goes to America
At the wedding of Juliet and Peter, Colin (Kris Marshall) tells his friend Tony (Abdul Salis) that he is leaving for America in the hopes that he will have better luck with women there because he is British and has been a romantic failure at home. Tony scoffs at the idea but Colin goes headfirst into it anyway. Shortly after landing in exotic Milwaukee, Colin meets Stacey (Ivana Miličević), Jeannie (January Jones), Carol-Anne (Elisha Cuthbert), and Harriet (Shannon Elizabeth).
There is a wrap up at the end of the film where characters are disembarking or awaiting arrivals. Most everyone is better off to one extent or another having found their own love since Christmas Eve. Harry and Karen have managed to stay together but things look strained at best.
This movie tugs at your heart strings and gives you all sorts of feels. It has got some good laughs and plenty of heartfelt moments. The movie has been referenced and copied since it came out and even has had some heartless bastards talk smack about it. How this movie upsets you I do not know. You have to have some real problems to not like this film. Or even to dislike it to the point you have to criticize it.
Love Actually is a wonderfully sweet film that will leave you feeling good. Watch it and enjoy and Merry Christmas.
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