It's not like I wasn't warned. The press material for Love Actually comes in the form of a Christmas package, with gold wrapping paper, a red ribbon and a little card that says "From the makers of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary and Notting Hill." Richard Curtis, who wrote those three Brit-hit comedies, has dedicated his career to the pursuit of happiness, and with Love Actually, which marks his directing debut, he's pulled out all the stops. This time, we get not one, not four, but nine love stories blinking on and off in succession, like a string of Christmas lights. If there can ever be too much of a good thing, this may be it, and some of the stories aren't all that good. But the movie just keeps licking you in the face, like a puppy left under the tree all night, and you'd have to be Ebenezer Scrooge to shout "Bah Humbug," not that I didn't think about shouting it a couple of times.
Hugh Grant's a newly elected prime minister who falls in love with his secretary (Martine McCutcheon). Colin Firth's a suddenly single writer who falls in love with his Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz). Emma Thompson is a mother of two whose husband (Alan Rickman) has developed a wandering eye. Laura Linney is a Bridget Jones-ish singleton who's developed a crush on someone she works with (Rodrigo Santoro). And so forth and so on, right down to the very sweet couple who just met while working as stand-ins on a porno film. (They exchange pleasantries while simulating anal sex.) Curtis allows the stories to rub up against one another -- Grant and Thompson play siblings -- and this gives the movie an Altman-like texture. But Love Actually doesn't have Robert Altman's satiric bite, not by a long shot. Curtis is madly in love with love, and he wants everybody to know about it.
Duly noted. Personally, I liked the movie's small moments, like when Linney, having lured her love object back to her apartment, does an ecstatic, albeit silent, victory dance just around the corner. And I pretty much despised the movie's big moments, of which there are many to choose from -- a quirky wedding, a quirky funeral, a quirky press conference. The wedding turns quirky when everybody suddenly reaches under the pews, pulls out musical instruments and starts playing along to "All You Need Is Love." With all due respect to the Beatles, is that ALL you need?