JUMPCUT All The Way: Love Actually (2003)

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth

Written by Cameron Frew

Films are a mixture of wine and perishable meats; some grow better with time, others do not age well at all. Love Actually is one such picture that has somehow fallen into both categories for the public: some praise its knowing cheese and saccharine, uplifting qualities; others (often quite furiously) criticize its mishaps and moral ambiguity, particularly among one or two of the umpteen sub-plots in this festive jamboree of laughs, sadness and joy.

Perhaps the most quintessentially British outing in the Christmas watchlist each year, the first sequence is a capture of reunions, hugs and happiness at London Heathrow airport. Then eases in Hugh Grant’s monologue, rekindling even the slightest ashes of lovesick hopelessness. He speaks, rather gently, of how love is “actually, all around”, the fact that any phone call that came from the Twin Towers on that fateful day wasn’t filled with messages with hate, but with, well, love.

Richard Curtis had long-established himself as a writer of spirited, kind-hearted comedy long before here. Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary – he wrote them all. But this was his first foray into directing, and that debutant nature flairs up occasionally with the odd overlong placeholder shot of a decorated cityscape or the River Thames. But this is generally impressive for someone on such hefty screenplay duties as well as captaining the ship.

A brisk run through of the plot then, shall we? It’s essentially similar to Crash, but a romantic comedy. We follow eight couples that are loosely connected in their own ways in the lead up to Christmas Day. New loves are found and old loves are fractured along the way, but the most important thing to remember is that all you need is — okay I’ll stop now.

There’s Bill Nighy, a faded rock star releasing a trashy Christmas single with his manager (Gregor Fisher). The former is amusingly brash and uncouth and wonderfully played by Nighy, who clearly had the time of his life with the role.

Then we have Colin Firth as a man forced out of his relationship by his adulterous girlfriend and brother (try not to cringe when you hear “hurry up big boy”), taking peaceful refuge abroad when he meets the woman who will change everything (Lúcia Moniz). For all the grander tales of affection, Firth’s is much slighter – not as easy to invest in, but by its sweeping zenith, you’ll fall head over heels.

There’s a handful of smaller, fleeting sub-plots which lack depth but pack in some great jollity. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page star as A-list stand-ins for movies; in this case, they’re in a sex scene. But nattering sparks fly and every moment they share has a cheeky, modest glee. Kris Marshall, after failing to woo the female population of the UK, decides to go to America, where he believes he will be a hit with the ladies. This is one particular instance where Curtis really invites you to be in on the joke, allowing the sort of fantasy many would probably dream of to unfold without any boundaries – and it’s hilarious.

Still in cutesy territory, there’s Liam Neeson as a recent widower, left to raise his stepson (Thomas Sangster), who so happens to have fallen for a classmate at school. She’s the cool girl, who “has no idea who he is”. In terms of bravura exuberance, this is the most effective relationship of the movie, again reaching a stunning finale that’ll have you cheering at the screen and wiping away the tears.

If you’re a Love Actually novice, get used to the idea of crying. This is not a saga free from heartbreak. We’ll start with Laura Linney’s story; she’s in love with a colleague, with whom she shares the odd flirty glance but remains to shy to do anything about it. After a push from her boss, Alan Rickman, wheels start turning. But there’s one problem; she has to always be available on the phone for her brother with special needs. Thankfully, this isn’t played for comedy at all; in fact, it’s potently bittersweet, hitting home a really selfless message where others opt for grand, romantic gestures.

The gestures are sometimes pointed in the wrong direction. The queen of queens, Emma Thompson, is Rickman’s wife. While she is self-effacing and affectionate, he is rather distant. Could be because he’s more interested in the office secretary (Heike Makatsch), who flouts decorum with her demands of “something she wants” and spreading of her legs. Rarely does infidelity evoke such rage; when Thompson realizes her husband’s dirty deeds, she shares a poignant moment with herself to the sound of Joni Mitchell (also, beautifully framed by Michael Coulter). As those tears stream, your fists tighten; it’s one of the most beautifully performed bits of acting you’ll see in an otherwise fluffy piece.

Whereas that’s a story of outright immoral actions, Andrew Lincoln’s is a bit more dubious. His best friend, Chiwetel Ejiofor marries Keira Knightley. But Lincoln is repeatedly cold to her, almost aggressively rude, like she sours his taste buds just from the mere soundbite of her voice. But the old maxim is wee boys pull girls’ hair because they like them. When this internal conflict comes to a close in arguably the film’s most iconic scene, your enjoyment is based on how well you can strip away your ethical thoughts on the matter.

But of all the aspirational fairytales, it’s Hugh Grant’s. He stars as the newly instated Prime Minister, who has an immediate fondness for one of Downing Street’s household staff, Martine McCutcheon (who has an expertly exclaimed dose of swearing: “Where the fuck’s my fucking coat?”). There’s a real charm in their growing liaison, with all their interruptions you constantly route for them. This includes the disruptive, devious President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton), who functions as an overblown but very effective caricature of the sort of smugness in politics that seems to come with birth across the pond.

But the way they all flow together is nothing short of inspired. You can’t argue that it was a phenomenon, and is readily established as a modern classic in the December genre. For what could have been a self-congratulatory exercise in bringing together a who’s who of rising and veteran stars, Love Actually is remarkably uncorrupted (despite the problematic nature of a few plot points). It’s a thoroughly British affair; endearing, involving, witty. But it’s also an ode to outlandish acts and tolerating hardship, to the necessary evil of tough love and the reparatory nature of a softer touch. Let Craig Armstrong’s uplifting, poppy, crescendo-filled score move and enthral you, and accept that no matter how many times you watch Love Actually, your blood will always boil because of Alan Rickman.

Advertisements

Watch This Space: August 28th – September 3rd

This week we’re excited to re-launch our weekly feature – Watch This Space. Every Monday we will be recommending films that are on TV that week, films playing at the cinema, and also remind you of those brilliant films hiding on streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and possibly in your own collection.

In Cinemas

Rough Night: This female-led comedy finally released in the UK last Friday, with most territories getting it in June and July. You can read Fiona’s review here, in which she calls it “an enjoyable night at the cinema“.

Logan Lucky: Can Jimmy Logan shake his family’s bad luck and pull off a $14 million heist? Corey shares his thought’s in a brand new review coming later today. We’ll update this article with a link when it’s up.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (3D Special): Arnie is back! ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ has been digitally enhanced and for one day only will be screening in 3D in cinemas across the UK. The film originally released in cinemas in 1991 and is back for old fans and new to enjoy on the big screen. We’ll have a special review up later this week!

On TV

Monday

Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994): Tune in to this British rom-com classic from the 90s for sharp-scripted silliness from Richard Curtis. Yes – the film is centred around bumbling, floppy-haired Hugh Grant, but it’s the eccentric ensemble that make this film both hilarious and heartfelt. If you’ve not seen it before, where have you been? If you have seen it before – cheer yourself up by surrounding yourself with a familiar group of friends and letting it wash over you like a warm bath. Tune into this classic on Film4 at 9pm. 

Footloose (1984): Kick off those Sunday shoes and go crazy for this 80s classic with a toe-tapping soundtrack and some eye-watering fashion choices. Kevin Bacon makes an appealing central character, backed up by a supporting cast that includes early Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn. John Lithgow is the standout as the preacher who has declared a Southern town to be a “no-dance” zone and if you think the rebellious teenagers are going to take that lying down, then you’re mistaken! Brighten up your life with this cheesy feel-good caper. 5Star thinks you’ll love it so much that they’re playing it twice, the first beginning at 7pm, and the second straight after at 8:20pm.

Tuesday 

Shaun of the Dead (2004):  Edgar Wright’s debut feature and first entry to his Cornetto trilogy – ‘Shaun of the Dead’, stars the hilarious duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. ‘Shaun’ simultaneously pays homage to and parodies the ‘of the Dead’ films from the late George A. Romero in a way that is both exciting and easy on the eye. It’s truly a must-see, and you can catch it on ITV2 at 9:00pm.

Snakes on a Plane (2006): Samuel L. Jackson says enough is enough, he’s had it with the “MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE”.. Need I say more? Okay, I will.. David R. Ellis’ ‘Snakes on a Plane’ gained considerable hype before the film released in cinemas 11 years ago, and despite how quickly that hype died down once it hit cinemas, I challenge you to find anyone who doesn’t know THAT line from the film. You can swear your heart out with Jackson from 9pm on Sky1.

Wednesday

About Time (2013): Combining a romantic comedy with some light science-fiction may be a somewhat bizarre mix, but Richard Curtis’ ‘About Time’ is, for my money, one of the finest romcoms of the last decade. With winning performances from the whole cast, a great sense of humour, bags full of heart, and a very fun time travel twist, it’s hard not to fall in love with the film from the very first scene. Fair warning though, Domnhall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams will ruin your base expectations of boyfriends and girlfriends for life. You can catch ‘About Time’ on Film4 at 6:40pm

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): This undervalued and overlooked origin story within the MCU has suffered from being overshadowed by its sequels, particularly ‘The Winter Soldier’. In my opinion, The First Avenger is the superior film. With its World War Two setting, Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and some great CGI (the wimpyfying of Chris Evans is fantastic) – ‘The First Avenger’ is one of the highlights of the MCU. If the rumours about the upcoming Infinity War are true, perhaps you should take the chance now to remind yourself of Cap’s shining greatness before shizz gets real dark. The action begins 9pm on Film4! 

Thursday

Superman (1978): You’ll believe a man can fly all over again. Richard Donnor directs the original comic-book adaptation- 1978’s ‘Superman: The Movie’. In a time before the superhero genre churned out by the book, CGI dazzling and star-studded movies year after year, travel back to more innocent, more family-friendly era with Christopher Reeve as the greatest Man Of Steel ever. A soaring soundtrack by John Williams and a wonderful cast and story help bring Superman to life in one of the most iconic, original and memorable super-hero films you all need to see. You’ll want to switch to ITV4 at 4pm to see Reeve’s in action! 

Predator (1987): You can see how great Arnold Schwarzenegger is as an action and comedy star when you remember one year after shooting up the jungle in ‘Predator’, he was playing simple-minded Julius opposite Danny DeVito in ‘Twins’. But I digress. No family-friendly comedy here. It’s just balls to the wall action and suspense to the highest level when Arnie and his tobacco chewing, machine gun toting, foul-mouthed squad turn from hunter to hunted, going up against the alien life-form known as The Predator. With direction from John McTiernan, special effects from Stan Winston and support from the likes of Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura and the late Sonny Landham, this is classic Schwarzenegger – when you’ve finished watching, don’t forget to “GET TO THE CHOPPA!”. Get in on the action on Film4 starting at 10:45pm

Friday

Inception (2010): This one is a no brainer… It’s on TV this week, therefore you need to watch it! Christopher Nolan assembles an impressive cast, which includes the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard, and if that line-up alone doesn’t sell it then you’re still in for a treat. Nolan keeps your full attention for the entirety of the film’s 2 and a half hour runtime, as we venture from dream to dream and watch DiCaprio and his team attempt to plant an idea in the mind of a CEO by using their dream-sharing technology. 

Role Models (2010): Having recently watched this film again, I can whole-heartily say that this film is still as funny as it was 7 years ago. Paul Rudd and Sean William-Scott are sentenced to community service and are sent to ‘Sturdy Wings’, an organisation that pairs children with adults to help build friendships. Rudd and Scott meet their matches when paired with Augie (a LARPing geek) and Ronnie (a foul-mouthed youngster), and hilarity ensues. The fun takes place over on 5Star at 11:15pm.

Hiding Online / In Our Collection

Kill Bill – Vol I and II (2003, 2004): Do yourself a favour and watch Tarantino’s masterpieces, featuring one of cinema’s greatest creations – Uma Thurman’s The Bride. The first is the all-action, kung fu heavy whirlwind featuring mind-blowing set pieces such as the House of Blue Leaves. The second is a different beast, exploring The Bride’s relationship with the titular Bill, a tour de force by David Carradine. Choosing which is better out of the two is a Sophie’s Choice for me. Do yourself a favour and watch both. Both films arrive on Netflix September 1st

Dead Poets Society (1989): O Captain My Captain. A tender central performance by Robin Williams can get a little schmaltzy at times, but this coming-of-age poetic film is worth your time for some classic lines and heart-warming scenes. The ensemble cast of High School students is a “who’s who” of current film and TV, Ethan Hawke, House’s Robert Sean Leonard and The Good Wife’s Josh Charles all got their breakthroughs here. As an English teacher, I have to say I aspire to the level of inspiration William’s Mr Keating brings to his lessons in literature and life. ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ will arrive on Netflix September 1st. 

Bronson (2008): Nicolas Winding Refn’s stylistic masterpiece, ‘Bronson’, is a biopic that explores the anarchic life of notorious British criminal Charles Bronson, played emphatically by the sublime Tom Hardy. Whilst it might not be everybody’s cup of tea, I can’t recommend it enough. Give it a go if you think you’re hard enough.

Deep Blue Sea (1999): Whilst no other shark movie can really hold a candle to the mighty ‘Jaws’, ‘Deep Blue Sea’ is one of the better ones out there. It’s ludicrous of course, but that is exactly what you should expect and want out of a movie about harvesting the brains of DNA-altered sharks to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. It has Samuel L. Jackson, terrible CGI sharks and plenty of gruesome deaths, what more could you want really?! ‘Deep Blue Sea’ is heading to Netlfix on Friday! 

A huge thank you to contributors this week: Fiona Underhill, Chris Gelderd, Sarah Buddery, Rhys Bowen Jones, and Corey Hughes.