Back in the Day, the phrase “English ensemble actor film” brought to mind names like John Gielgud, John Mills, Alec Guiness, and Trevor Howard.
Love Actually shows how far we’ve come when we can watch a blank-faced actor like Martin Freeman ( Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) nonchalantly chatting away while feigning naked sex with his soon-to-be-girlfriend.
Don’t get me wrong; this is a pleasant, funny movie. Sometimes, though, the nonstop desire to please strays into the mawkish and cloying, but there are so many characters and cross-plots going on that we don’t have a chance for too much continued annoyance.
I’d prefer fewer characters and a bit more relaxed approach that relies less on cleverness than on a chance to get to know the characters better, but that would not be the movie we have here. I doubt, for example, that director Curtis could get through making a romantic comedy with only two characters.
In some ways the DVD’s commentary track is just as entertaining as the movie It’s actually somewhat spontaneous; we hear some of the main actors lampoon each others’ performances and careers. We even get to hear Hugh Grant make a reference to his “mug shot.”
It’s also funny to hear the director and senior actors Grant, Firth, and Nighey suggest that the juvenile lead (who splendidly plays Liam Neeson’s son in the film) “cover his eyes” when the nude scenes come on.
Also in the commentary director-writer Curtis describes having to remove 80 minutes of the film to bring it down to a manageable length. Some of the deleted scenes are shown and we realize that cutting them really was detrimental since they provided more insight into the characters. (My opinion is that reducing the number of characters would have been better than reducing the time per character, but it’s not my film and I’m not living the high life in London.)
Ah, yes, London at Christmas time. It’s beautiful as presented here. But as with some of Curtis’ previous films, the London we see presented is curiously mono-cultural. If you’ve ever visited London you realize that London, Like New York and Paris, is a truly multicultural city. That’s really not on display here and it makes the movie a bit surreal. (I know, there are black actors in the film, but their impacts are secondary; they suffer from the need to compete with the impacts of better known actors who bring more “gravitas” to their scenes.)
But who’s keeping track. This movie has been designed and manufactured to be feel-good and, damn it, it is, especially if you gravitate towards hackneyed white middle class angst as I do. It would be churlish to think otherwise, like how you feel when you are surrounded by eight terminally cute puppies, as happened to me recently. How can you resist?
Copyright (c) 2005 by Dennis D. McDonald