TBT: Love Actually (2003)

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Once more I’m faced with writing about a movie I have never seen before. (Shouldn’t these TBTs be movies from my past, from my childhood? Isn’t that what a ‘throwback’ really is, a memory?) Yes, somewhere along the way I kind of lost my focus, or maybe I just don’t watch enough movies to make this a legitimate feature. I suppose what this has turned into is okay in the end, because I have only seen a finite number of films in my past; there’s (almost) no limit to what I can see in the future. Even still, I can’t help but think that maybe this part of the blog has run its course. With that in mind, we go to yet another new (to me) entry for the final segment this year!

Today’s food for thought: Love Actually.

Love Actually movie poster fart-fanugens

Loving, actually since: November 14, 2003

[Netflix]

Despite heartwarming performances from a stellar ensemble cast, this is actually a pretty terrible movie. Love Actually may not be quite as stuffed a turkey as more recent holiday disasters like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day — here’s a hint: if you want a quality bit of entertainment, you’d do well to stay away from films named after a holiday — nor is it quite as blatant in its commercialization of those holidays. Love Actually is, all the same, entirely too ingratiating.

The impressive ensemble helps make proceedings go down a little easier, but it’s still like trying to chew a wad of taffy that’s way too large for one person to handle. And taffy is kind of gross anyway.  But it’s not as gross as watching actors as talented as these try to make something out of a script that contrives human interaction in such a way that Love Actually becomes quasi-fantastical in its attempts to sell the events as something born out of love — you know, the kind of stuff that gets people by in the real world, not the sweet syrupy stuff in movies. Oh, how the irony stings.

After enduring these spectacularly unspectacular interweaving love stories for more than two hours, I can now only question my thoughts and feelings — all of which were positive — towards Curtis’ similarly precious About Time, in which Domhnall Gleeson discovers he could manipulate his ability to travel through time to build the perfect relationship with Rachel McAdams (or make her his concubine, I’m not sure which). Maybe I ought to just chalk that overly enthusiastic review up to being blinded by Gleeson’s likability. The guy can almost do no wrong. Add in Bill Nighy and you have a cast that’s hard not to be won over by.

Love Actually at least somewhat benefits from a similar reality, except this is a much larger pool of talent and not all participants fare well in this sugary, sappy mess. Like kids in grade school, the ensemble pairs off into smaller groups to tackle ten interrelated, England-set stories that end up coming together through circumstances that I feel more comfortable calling serendipity. I certainly can’t call it the product of good writing.

We have Nighy’s rock’n roll legend Billy Mack who is recording a Christmas song even he despises but goes on to promote it anyway because it has a chance of becoming a #1 hit. Throughout the film he lays on his anti-charm pretty thick, abusing his fat manager Joe (Gregor Fisher) and seemingly bent on self-destruction in a very Russell Brand-like way. His is one of the few stories that actually remain engaging throughout and ends up being far less manipulative. Maybe it’s just coincidence that his is the only story to remain completely independent from the others.

Liam Neeson, playing stepfather to Thomas Brodie-Sangster‘s Sam, sets himself apart from the chorus of others who can only sing in one key: and that is feeling lovelorn and lonely. His Daniel represents an entirely different, more tender side of Neeson that is entirely welcomed. It’s too bad his backstory revolves around the painful loss of his wife (the same wife, we assume, that many of his characters in later action thrillers will too be mourning). Daniel is a warm presence and his relationship with his stepson (also played very well by Sangster) affords Love Actually at least one or two brownie points.

Outside of these threads we start venturing into stories that become less interesting by powers of ten. The best of the rest manifests in Colin Firth’s genuine, affable Jamie, a writer whose girlfriend has been having an affair with his brother. Devastated by the discovery, he retreats into a cottage he owns in France where he meets Portuguese housekeeper Aurélia and soon falls for her, despite the language barrier. So he learns to speak Portuguese and tracks her down after making a brief return trip to England, because, well the movie’s all lovey-dovey like that.

The rest of the picture can be filled in as follows: Keira Knightley and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who play newlywed couple Juliet and Peter, contend with the latent feelings of Peter’s old friend Mark (Andrew Lincoln); Martin Freeman and Joanna Page, body doubles in movies who find attraction to one another while staging sex scenes; Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, a longtime married couple now face a crisis in the wake of Karen (Thompson)’s discovery of an affair her husband is potentially having with a coworker; Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister, the most self-deprecating individual ever to find himself in a position of such power, can’t help but feel attracted to one of his secretaries even after her indiscretion with the sleazy U.S. President (an absolute waste of Billy Bob Thornton’s time). Rowan Atkinson has a slightly amusing cameo. And the less said about Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro’s parts, the better.

Love Actually too forcefully reminds the viewer that the world is indeed a small place and, playing out like one of those old McDonald’s commercials from the ’90s (“hey, it could happen!”), it champions taking a risk on romantic gestures over the holiday season. Because, hey — that thing you really want to have happen, it can happen. Because, as the movie justifies itself, it’s Christmas and it’s a time to be bluntly honest with each other.

So let me be bluntly honest with you. I took a chance on this film actually making an attempt to be believable after a few head-scratching developments up front, but too much of a good thing — the spreading of joy in this case — is worse than not enough of that good thing. Mr. Curtis apparently isn’t familiar with the concept of ‘less is more.’ Choked with coincidence and serendipity, Love Actually may spread holiday cheer like a wild fire but the feeling I get from it is more like . . . well, hate actually.

Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in 'Love Actually'

Recommendation: Star-studded romantic comedy bogged down by unabashed sentimentality. Stars are good, story is horrendous — played out, predictable, way too cheesy and not subtle in the slightest. A few supporting turns make some of the effort worthwhile but in the end, Love Actually isn’t one you turn to for performances. You turn to it to feel much better about getting to escape the banality of real-world Christmas events. A feel good movie that made this little grinch feel quite bad.

Rated: R

Running Time: 135 mins.

TBTrivia: Kris Marshall, who played Colin, a caterer at Juliet and Peter’s wedding, apparently returned his pay check for the scene where the three American girls undress him. He said he had such a great time having three girls undress him for twenty-one takes, that he was willing to do it for free, and thus returned his check for that day.

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Photo credits: http://www.playbuzz.com; http://www.fanpop.com  

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23 thoughts on “TBT: Love Actually (2003)

  1. Ultimately this is an exceptionally forgettable movie. It has some sweet moments, and some that will make you smile, but ultimately its corniness (and not the cool kind, either) crushes it and makes it just okay. Meh.

    • ‘Crushes it,’ is right! 🙂 I can take movies like these in very small doses. Unfortunately Love Actually falls on the other side of that threshold. I did like Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s arc here though. That was definitely good.

      • That was definitely one that was well worth the watch. Probably because it felt a little more realistic than some of the others…

  2. Great review Tom. I can’t say I’ve ever been inclined to watch this. I saw it on once, tried watching, then my mom (who I was watching with) saw Bilbo Baggins’ butt and she freaked – can’t really blame her. So I’ve never been back since and it doesn’t sound like I’m missing out too much.

    • Ha! Bilbo Baggins ass. That is humorous.

      No, there are many, many more reasons why you should run away screaming from this thing. Heartbreakingly adult Bilbo Baggins aside.

  3. Good review Tom and Merry Christmas. It’s not a perfect movie, but it has a heartwarming charm to it and many of the performances are very good, particularly Neeson and Thompson.

    • Yah I really can’t stand this movie. Hahah hate to say it but I don’t really see the heartwarming charm to it at all

        • Today no one is entitled to anything. Not even their own opinions. 😉 Jk. Merry Xmas bro. Hope Santa brings you something nice. 😀

            • Thanks bra, yep. Cookin’ up some food soon and working on the finishing touches of my review for ‘Legend.’ Looking forward to getting that out there. U doing any writing today or just relaxing?

              • It’s late over here in England, had a relaxing day, wonderful dinner with my family and just finished watching Roman Holiday. Been a good one. Some interesting gifts too.

    • Thanks bro, it has like a few good moments, and those are all with Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie Sangster. Maybe Bill Nighy as well

  4. This one’s on my guilty pleasure list. I mean everything you said is completely right and yet it’s such a sappy, fun time. (I feel like such a cinematic disappointment.) 😦

    Btw, as I understand it, a “throwback” is a reminder – not necessarily a memory. Like if you saw a Super Nintendo and it made you think of the 90’s – that would be a throwback whether you ever played a Super Nintendo or not. 😉

    • Yeah, that’s probably the better way to describe the term ‘throwback.’ Fucking millennials and all their new fancy lingo. 😉

      I’m glad someone here likes this film, this thing was awful to sit through for me. And I can take romantic films every now and then. This was just offensively stupid

      • That’s the killer – I normally wouldn’t like it but… I do. 😦 I guess that’s what puts the ‘guilty’ in guilty pleasure.

        Btw – hope your holidays rock and have a wicked cool 2016. 🙂

        • Oh man, it’s all good. If you like it you like it. I wish I could like more of it, but for what it’s worth, Liam Neeson/Thomas Brodie Sangster really touched me. That story arc was fantastic, as was Bill Nighy’s.

          Happy Holidays to you as well man. Thank you

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