Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Love Actually



UK (UK/US) 2003 : Richard CURTIS : 135 mins

Having scripted Four Weddings, Bean, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones Diary, Curtis was given pretty much carte blanche for his long-awaited directorial debut. The epic-length result is being hyped as the ultimate romantic comedy, juggling a dozen storylines featuring festive-season romances populated by a genuinely star-studded cast (Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, etc etc).

Though never less than watchable, the film simply isn’t as funny or as well-written as Curtis reputation would suggest, or as the glittering ensemble deserves. The belly-laughs work OK especially when they’re being shamelessly milked by the brilliant Bill Nighy as a washed-up rocker making an unlikely comeback.

But, in a classic case of first-time-itis, Curtis has wildly overstretched himself: it would take a Robert Altman to do justice to all these stories and characters, and cosy, safe-hands Curtis is clearly no Altman. Despite the prominence of Grant in the posters and trailers, his character a British Prime Minister of unspecified political leaning is among the many short-changed by the overcrowded plotting.

He does, however, get to publicly tick off the smarmy, grope-happy American president (Billy Bob Thornton) a scene whose comic value is undercut by the grotesque disparity between the fictional power-dynamic and the all-too-depressing reality. Youd have thought, meanwhile, that the flak Curtis received after the ethnically-cleansed Notting Hill might have made some impact. Apparently not: the very few ethnic-minority characters (including rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor) are rapidly shunted off to the sidelines, making for a very white Christmas indeed.

Its also troubling to reflect that, even with such a relatively long running-time, all the main relationships are heterosexual, nearly all their participants conspicuously well-heeled. Even the title is middle-class and its not even accurate: with a couple of exceptions (principally the excellent Thompson and Rickman), most of this lot are in lust, actually.

12th November, 2003
(seen 4th October, UGC Sheffield) [review originally written for Tribune magazine]

click here for initial-reaction letter-style review

by Neil Young