Monday, September 30, 2013

Revisiting the Richard Curtis milestone, LOVE ACTUALLY, as its 10th anniversary approaches

Ask movie fans of romantic comedy what's their favorite example of the genre, and back will undoubtedly come a lot of responses for LOVE ACTUALLY. This movie was first released in 2003, when 9/11 was still on most of our minds. It made what was then -- still is, actually -- one of the more profound and truthful statements about airports and air travel and what you see while waiting at the arrivals gate. When it was first released, the film divided critics, though not so much audiences, as it gave many of us exactly what we wanted in spades and times ten -- while playing each of its several love stories for all it was worth. Which turned out to be quite a lot, making this movie so damnably memorable.

When TrustMovies noticed that the film, written and directed by Richard Curtis (at left), was suddenly appearing as "new" on Netflix streaming, it was hard to resist taking a peek at it once again, as he hadn't seen it since it was first released in November 2003. (Interestingly enough, Mr. Curtis' newest film, About Time, makes its debut this coming week at the New York Film Festival.) TM promised himself that he would only watch maybe ten minutes, just as a "fun" reminder. But then, 135 minutes later, there he was scrolling down the end credits, tears dripping onto the remote control as he kept hitting the "pause" button to check the names of some those so recognizable faces in lesser roles.

What's maybe most surprising about the movie (other than how well it holds up and how, even now, it seems incapable of being properly imitated) is how many about-to-be-better-known actors (and a few others on their way down) show up in smaller roles! Other than those eight starry names and faces that appear on the movie's poster, top, you probably will have forgotten about the other actors until you find yourself saying, omigod, that's Shannon ElizabethChiwetel Ejiofor! January JonesMartin Freeman! Elisha CuthbertRodrigo Santoro! Denise Richards! And on and on...

I was also surprised at how much I had forgotten about the specific of so many of these love stories. Only the one involving Hugh Grant (above, left) as Britain's new Prime Minister and Martine McCutcheon (above, right) as the aide he falls for still filled my memory. Perhaps this story registered so strongly because we were at that time in the midst of Bush's lying and illegal war against Iraq, to which Tony Blair, despite the wishes of the British people, gave his blessing. To see Grant stand up to Billy Bob Thornton's American President -- who comes of like a reptilian combo of Bush and Cheyney -- made the movie seem like wish fulfillment on a whole other level.

The love story that most surprised me on this second viewing was that of Colin Firth (above, with Lúcia Moniz) who, early on, is cuckolded by his girl and so hightails it to southern France where he meets and fall in love with another visitor to that country whose language he can't speak, nor she his. Mr. Curtis makes the most of this tale, with subtitles to clue us in to what Firth can't understand. Is there an another actor who packs so much emotion and heft into utter passivity? If so, clue me in. Firth is so good here that he would steal the movie, if so many other's weren't doing it already.

Like Bill Nighy (center, left), as an over-the-hill rock singer trying for a comeback by changing an old hit of his into a "new" Christmas" song. Oh, yes: the movie takes place in the weeks leading up to that holiday -- which makes it both a memorable rom-com and a memorable Christmas movie. There's Alan Rickman (shown at bottom, right) and Emma Thompson (bottom, left) as a married couple about to be jolted by the specter of adultery; Laura Linney and Mr. Santoro (the latter will have gays and girls fainting when he disrobes); and Keira Knightley, Mr. Ejiofor (both below) and The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln (two photos below) in a lovely, funny/sad, unrequited triangle.

The capper -- and perhaps Mr. Curtis' best idea -- is using Mr. Freeman and Joanna Page as body-double stand-ins on a classy-looking porno shoot who meet in perhaps the oddest, most against-the-grain charming manner in the history of movies. Both actors seize their roles with zest and delight, which the audience can only share.

Oh -- and remember the loss Liam Neeson (below, left) must deal with, along with the budding romance that his stepson (Thomas Brodie-Sangsterbelow, right) experiences? One of the reason this movie works so well is that the filmmaker offers so many kinds of love -- from lost love to first-love, love in danger to love between the classes and/or races. (The only thing missing is any trace of GLBT love. Were Curtis to make his movie in this decade, there's hardly a way he could leave that out.)

As I mentioned earlier -- despite Love Actually's high quotient of laughs, charm, love (and length, though there's hardly a wasted moment) -- not everyone likes this movie. To read one of the better negative votes for this film, via Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams, click here. Though I must say, comparing this movie, as Ms Williams does, to the work of Garry Marshall indicates that she has never sat through the likes of Valen-tine's Day nor New Year's Eve. Sure, Marshall was trying to come up with another movie as successful as Curtis', but he set the bar so low in terms of intelligence and class that comparisons are anything but apt.

You can catch the movie now via Netflix streaming, on DVD and elsewhere, too, I am sure. Universal, the studio that released the film, is offering a new Blu-ray/DVD combo -- to appear mid-October -- as a special holiday "ornament."

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