In the weeks before Christmas, love may be in the air of London, but some people are having trouble connecting. Newlywed Juliet (Keira Knightley) can’t understand why her husband’s best friend (Andrew Lincoln) is acting so distant. Sarah (Laura Linney) is an emotionally weighted wallflower who secretly desires her officemate. Daniel (Liam Neeson), a recent widower attempts to connect with his stepson (Thomas Sangster) be helping him land a girlfriend. Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman) face marital woes after Harry strays. A recently jilted writer, Jamie (Colin Firth) has his bitter attitude challenged after he falls for his Portuguese housemaid (Lucia Moniz). Romantically challenged Colin (Kris Marshall) can’t find love in the UK but believes the state of Wisconsin may hold the answer to his love woes. Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is an aging rocker trying to prove he’s still got it while promoting his new gimmicky holiday song. Even the Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) can’t escape love, as he finds himself fancying his adorable assistant Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) only minutes after meeting her.

All of these relationships stitch together into a wonderfully delicate Christmas quilt of a film called Love Actually, the latest take from the producers of such romantic fare as Four Weddings And A Funeral, Bridget Jones Diary and Notting Hill. Giving the director’s chair to first time helmer Richard Curtis was a clear choice as he had expertly penned the three previous smashes. Curtis pulls in some big stars from among Britain’s finest and has no problem letting each of them shine in their own way. The movie is an attention grabber, unrelenting and surprisingly upbeat, mimicking the romantic comedies from cinema’s Golden Age.

The film opens in an airport with Hugh Grant explaining that no matter what feelings are conceived by the world, love simply exists in every facet of life, even in somewhere as trite as an awaited arrival at an airport. This perception of humanity is what sets the movie’s tone, a maintained sense of realism that offsets the comedic atmosphere. Curtis has managed to write his best script and directs a real holiday treat. Curtis is unafraid to expose and share his character’s fallibilities with his audience, showing that all is not fair in the game called love. Love, Actually show the inability of voicing true feelings and lost heartbreaking chances of getting what is wanted. Emotions are like a string of Christmas lights blinking off and on through the heartache and the heartfelt, the triumphs and the failures.

The film has an amazing ensemble cast that would make Robert Altman giddy with Christmas cheer. After a four-year hiatus Emma Thompson’s return to the screen is triumphant, portraying the fidelity-questioning wife. Liam Neeson regains some of his credibility back as the widower stuck on Claudia Schiffer and Colin Firth again shines. Curtis also manages to toss in a few stocking stuffers, casting his Mr. Bean partner Rowan Atkinson as an overly anal retentive store clerk and American indie treasure Laura Linney. Just for the boys, Curtis adds some delicious eye-candy with American dream girls Shannon Elizabeth, Denise Richards and January Jones as well, American dream girls.

There are charming moments that are hung by the chimney with care, like Andrew Lincoln doing his best Michael Hutchens imitation, pleading his love without opening his mouth. Hugh Grant’s “song and dance” routine is unforgettable and Colin Firth’s run for love will have audiences cheering. But it’s Bill Nighy who gets the best show stopping laughs, using unbendable truths as his way of attracting holiday gold.

Love Actually is a fantastic cinematic Christmas feast complete with all the trimmings. It’s a downright “Ha, ha, ha. Boo, hoo, hoo,” flick with distinct British charm. It’s a film for romantics of all stripes that delivers the best gift of all- love, actually.

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About Rich Drees 7060 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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