ARTS

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December 2, 2003

Despite some added fluff, this writer may have found love, actually

No, this headline does not refer to the love of my life—sorry, everyone, if you were looking for some juicy gossip. What it does refer to, though, is my recent obsession with the movie Love Actually, the endearing romantic comedy I've been raving about to my friends and family. It's been out now for a few weeks, and I've seen it three times already. The sick part is that I know I will go a few more times. The thing that's so refreshing about this movie is that it is not a typical chick flick (that's right, men, keep reading)—it is the perfect combination of a love story and a laugh-out-loud comedy that leaves everyone feeling satisfied as he or she walks out of the theater (well, everyone except cynics and grinches).

The film is the directorial debut of Richard Curtis, the famed British screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary, and the cast is truly a showcase for major British movie stars (plus a few American ones to boot). I refuse to go into too much detail about the plot, for fear that I might ruin the element of surprise that makes the first-time viewing so enchanting. However, I'll sketch out the main details and flesh out some of the more interesting features.

The movie is primarily composed of eight central relationships. These relationships are part of a web of characters. The movie takes place in the weeks before Christmas, and the holiday theme is resonant throughout the entire movie. There are also a few more minor relationships in the web, which overall encompasses more than 18 characters. This is not meant to overwhelm you. Somehow (to the credit of Curtis) you manage to remember and feel connected to each of the characters. Believe it or not, the plot isn't even remotely confusing or cumbersome. The skipping around from story to story holds your attention. Curtis provides a cliffhanger every few minutes, and you anxiously await what each new scene will bring.

What really makes Love Actually unique is that the stories depicted are not just typical romantic tales of a man and woman falling in love (although—believe you me—there are definitely some of those for all you die-hard romantics out there). On the contrary, they are celebrations of all the different manifestations of love, from the more unglamorous and ordinary forms of love to the dark and melancholy trappings of love. It is here where the story is particularly touching because, come on, let's face it, how many of us have ever been in love, head-over-heels Hollywood style? How many of us have ever experienced pain and doubt from love or "got the shit kicked out of us by love" (to quote the adorable, precocious character Sam)? By including love between friends, love between parents and their children, love between brothers and sisters, and by reminding us of the heartbreak that often accompanies love, the movie keeps things very real and quite inspirational.

The beauty of this film is that it is a mature film. Having just had to sit through the sheer torture and pain of Under the Tuscan Sun with its trite dialogue, predictable plot, and utter cheesiness, I've come to appreciate Love Actually even more. It is sentimental without being sappy and funny without being ridiculous because of the quality of the script. Nothing in the dialogue seems forced. It was really nice to hear an entire theater laughing out loud without slapstick or toilet humor being the cause.

On that note, one of my favorite characters in the movie (and one of my favorite non-romantic love stories) is the wild washed-up old rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy). Billy Mack is making a comeback with a Christmas song, a remake of the Trogs song "Love Is All Around." His story is the closest thing that comes to slapstick and silliness; one of my favorite lines of the movie is when he tells people on a live radio broadcast he hopes they buy his "festering turd of an album." Billy Mack, however, is so funny, so brutally honest, and so crazy that he somehow works as a character.

Hugh Grant is absolutely wonderful as the British Prime Minister, but for entirely different reasons. I've heard many mixed reviews of his character and how he plays it, but I do think he has just the right amount of "powerful politician" mixed with "silly-normal-insecure person." On a side note, the movie makes some very—how can I put this delicately—interesting political innuendos that you will get a kick out of (the main one involving Billy Bob Thornton as the president of the United States).

Love Actually is still far from perfect, but for a romantic comedy, it comes damn close. It accomplishes what should be the main goals of a romantic comedy: it's warm and fuzzy; it's not too warm and fuzzy; it has variation in stories, characters, sentiments. Yes, some of it is predictable, and some of what happens is implausible (if not borderline impossible), but the rest of the movie is so good that you can forgive those tiny flaws.

One of the main criticisms that the professional critics have raised is that there are at least two extraneous storylines. I do agree that they could be cut out because they are not very meaningful, profound, or very well connected with the other plot lines, but so what? The movie is not too long, and Curtis did such a great job of weaving every detail of the stories together—even those two stories—that it doesn't really make all that much of a difference. Each might be just another layer of fluff, but in one of the stories, it is funny fluff. In the other, it is touching fluff. Each type of fluff is enjoyable in its own non-offensive way.

More importantly, each time I've gone to see the movie or each time I've talked to someone who has seen it, I've noticed overwhelmingly positive responses. As I was walking out of the theater the first time, I said to my friends, "Wow, I heard it was good, but I was not expecting it to be this good." Before I knew it, a 40-something man in a suit piped up and said that some friends had recommended the movie. He assumed it would be a run-of-the-mill chick flick, but he was pleasantly surprised. In addition, a more telling indicator was that my two best guy friends really enjoyed the movie. They summed it up well: they liked how it was really funny and how it had some deep elements, too. But in the end, it just made them feel good.