Monday, December 12, 2016

25 Days of Christmas: LOVE ACTUALLY

Welcome to Day 12 of our 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS series where we will be taking a look at some holiday classics each day in the lead up to Christmas. Today we look back at a modern Christmas classic…LOVE ACTUALLY!

Love Actually is a 2003 romantic comedy/Christmas movie directed by Richard Curtis. The film was the first in a trend of films that followed a large number of different storylines that eventually connect around a major holiday. The film has an incredible cast and stars Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Sienna Gulliory, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Kris Marshall, Heike Makatsche, Martin Freeman, Joanna Page, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Kiera Knightley, Martine McCutcheon, Laura Linney, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Rodrigo Santoro, Billy Bob Thorton, Rowan Atkinson, January Jones, and Alan Rickman.

This piece will be a review of this film, certainly, but it will also be a defense. This film has its fans, but it also has a great number of detractors who actively view this as a bad film. I, for one, could not disagree more. Love Actually is one of the best romantic comedies with enough compelling narratives to keep you invested in the film whilst simultaneously being outrageously entertaining and actually really funny.

Beginning this piece by talking about the positives, the first (and most obvious) thing to address is the incredible cast in this film. As demonstrated by the starring list included earlier, this film has an incredible cast. From top to bottom this film has a cast of immense talent and proven ability both before and since. In my view, they brought much of this to bear in this film and make the film as compelling as it is. In addition to bringing their essential talent to the film, they also feel like they’re really having fun making this movie. The enthusiasm it appears they have drips off of them and is infectious from my perspective as a viewer. This all comes together very neatly to create the best base to provide this film with the opportunity of success, which it capitalizes on.

The next big thing I want to discuss is the comedy. This film is very funny and there is a lot of different comedy in this film. For starters, I will say that I’m pleased to be reviewing a film that offers comedy without it being slapstick in style. This film has situational and clever comedic flare and moments that really work (and can work on a broad range of people and tastes). Bill Nighy’s storyline stands out with regard to comedy as pretty much every scene he has in the film is laugh out loud hilarious. Hugh Grant also owns his role and his scene where he dances through the residence at 10 Downing Street is brilliant and never fails to bring a smile to my face. The film also knows where to ease off though. With some of the more dramatic plotlines it doesn’t go for cheap humor and also doesn’t overdo the humor where a lesser film would have.

The film also manages to have interesting drama. It opens up some unexpected things like Liam Neeson’s character dealing with the death of his wife, Laura Linney’s character dealing with her developmentally disabled brother, and Alan Rickman’s character’s infidelity. In a film that one would expect to be fairly thin with drama at all, this film cuts deep and actually gives you some meaningful dramatic plotlines that you get invested in. This is probably the most surprising thing about the film and what really separates it from the pack.

Another intangible this film has going for it is how infectiously cute it is. There are a lot of “aww” moments in it, but none of them are cheap. If you look at Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s character and the way he endeavors to get the girl you can’t help but find it adorable to no end (because, it is). He also might just be one of the cutest and most effective child actors which helps his case tremendously. The famous “note card” seen between Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley also stands out in this regard for adults.

Finally, on the topic of positives, Love Actually is cleverly constructed. The film drops hints and interesting plot points that cause different things to converge at the end as well as keep you involved in this being a “shared universe” within the film. The writing is so clear, in fact, that in a story with nine completely independent plotlines everything manages to work, not be self-contradictory, and maintain the audience interest throughout. This is really not a small feat as films with just one plotline frequently fail to achieve this.

Love Actually is great, and even incredible for its genre. If I had any complaint it would be that there are some unnecessary awkward moments that don’t totally contribute to the film. Additionally, though I think that they all work at the end of the day, the number of storylines could be reduced and either shorten the slightly long runtime or just focus on the most interesting plotlines.

With all that out of the way, I want to quickly defend this movie. There are some haters out there and I have tried in a bona fide way to understand their gripes with the film. Some of them end up being that the messages are poor and that a number of the plotlines really end up being depressing. Others find the film fairly banal overall. And others still view this as merely an inconsequential “chick flick” that isn’t worth their time. If I were to quibble with anyone, it would be with groups one and three. If you find this film to not be funny, and not entertaining for your sensibilities, I can’t help you. If you say that the messages and “darkness” of parts of this film damage it, I would respond that though a lot of it is “unreal” there are grains of truth to certain things (as well as immense fictitious hyperbole with others). I think it is bold and important to have “skeezy” and negative things (as well as sad things) in order to make the film feel more like a world we can appreciate and get actually invested in. With respect to the third group, if you haven’t and/or refuse to see this film on the grounds that it is “just a chick flick” or refuse to think about it and get invested for the same reason, you are denying yourself possible joy. Let go and see what you might find. You might love this as I do.

Overall, I think Love Actually is an excellent film, a staple for the Christmas season, and, in its genre, a bona fide masterpiece. The film blends wonderful comedy with interesting drama, compelling story, and infectious happiness that might warm even the coldest of hearts and show them that “love actually is all around.” Check it out again this holiday season!
Ryan’s Score: 9/10

Be sure to stay tuned throughout the rest of the month! We're posting a new Christmas review every day, both old and new! Check back to see what movie we'll have you singing carols next!

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