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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"OK, Dad, let's do it. Let's get the s**t kicked out of us by love."
DVD ReviewAfter having written Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, and having contributed to the screenplay for Bridget Jones's Diary, Richard Curtis established himself as the most polished writer of romantic comedies working in film today. With this, his directorial debut, he's swinging for the fences—watching this movie, you get the sense that he's trying to create the romantic comedy to outdo all other romantic comedies, to be to the genre what Ernest Lehman's script for North by Northwest was to Hitchcock pictures. And it's largely successful, a frothy brew of familiar faces, witticisms, heartfelt scenes of emotion, as everybody on hand is reeling from having been struck by the thunderbolt. It's no disparagement to the movie to say that this is the sort of thing you will like, if you like this sort of thing.
In fact, Love Actually covers enough story ground for a dozen movies, and at times seems like an odd hybrid of romantic comedy and Robert Altman ensemble piece. Finding enough screen time for all of the accomplished actors in the cast must have been one of Curtis' greatest challenges, and you can almost feel him emptying out his writer's notebook into the screenplay. Great Britain has a new Prime Minister, who is dashing and single—it's Hugh Grant as an available Tony Blair, more or less, and he falls for Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), on the 10 Downing Street household staff. The P.M.'s sister (played by Emma Thompson) is in a sagging marriage to a magazine editor (Alan Rickman), who tries to resist succumbing to the temptation of his available and interested personal assistant; when Emma isn't worrying about her husband's wandering eye, she's consoling her recently widowed friend (Liam Neeson), with an 11-year-old son, Sam, and a fixation on Claudia Schiffer. Sam is in love, too, of course; similarly pining is one of Rickman's employees, Laura Linney, who has a years-long, obvious but never-acted-upon crush on one of her colleagues, who, despite being a desk jockey, is underwear model handsome.
Wait, there's more. Colin (Kris Marshall) has struck out with English women, so he's off to that land of paradise, where the taverns teem with sexy, available young things: Milwaukee. Jamie (Colin Firth) discovers that his brother is sleeping with his girlfriend; heartbroken, Jamie lights out for Portugal, where he falls head over heels for his housekeeper, Aurelia (Lucía Moniz); though she has no English and he no Portuguese, they still make themselves understood. Another fellow is in love with his best friend's new wife; two stand-ins for a porn feature have a naked though chaste courtship; Emma and Alan's little girl is slated to play the lobster in the school nativity pageant.
Didn't I mention that it's also Christmastime? Billy, an aging rock star in the Keith Richards mode, has cut a maudlin record, but it's selling enough to let him continue getting away with being offensive. As you can probably imagine from this whirlwind recap, much of Love Actually is headspinning; and at times it feels as if Curtis is assembling the most elegant and charming crossword puzzle of all time. Inevitably, some of the storylines get short shrift, but there are no outrageous late reveals, and no deus ex machina to yank the whole thing together. And as if the above-the-line talent weren't enough, the film also has some delightful little cameos, including Billy Bob Thornton as a lecherous United States President (Thornton is from Arkansas; draw your own inferences), Denise Richards as a snow bunny, the answer to every lonely English lad's dreams, and Claudia Schiffer as a single mom most taken with Liam Neeson.
Curtis' touch is consistently deft enough to keep all of these balls in the air, and while this film may not be a profound meditation on the human condition—it doesn't aspire to be—you'd have to be pretty awfully coldhearted and perennially lonely not to empathize with at least a handful of the many characters. Also, a coalition of the willing led by Hugh Grant and Billy Bob Thornton unapologetically gets my vote.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: A clean transfer, with strong and consistent colors, and little visual interference introduced in the port over to DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: There are occasional balance problems with the English-language track, with the music on the soundtrack subsuming some of the dialogue; and it's the dialogue we've come to hear, so it's sort of an annoyance. Otherwise, it sounds pretty clean, with little hiss or room tone.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Along Came Polly, Peter Pan
10 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Curtis, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Thomas Sangster
Much more informative is the package (37m:13s) of ten deleted scenes, each of which has a video introduction from Curtis. The first cut of the film was something like three and a half hours, so he and his editors had to be ruthless; probably the best of the ones that ended up on the cutting room floor is of Emma Thompson being called to the headmistress' office, to discuss her bratty son's inappropriate Christmas wish. (It involves H.M. Queen Elizabeth II and farts.) Also worthwhile is The Music of Love Actually (08m:17s), which features more of Curtis, discussing, among others, the Beach Boys, and Joni Mitchell's various cuts of Both Sides Now. You'll also find The Trouble With Love Is (03m:48s), a Kelly Clarkson music video; and though the feature is broken into 20 chapters, they are annoyingly listed on the menus only with still photos, and no text; finding a particular scene is close to impossible. Universal redeems itself with their sporty new Amaray keepcases, however, with their funky little clips.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsNothing you can say but you can learn how to play the game. It's easy. All together now: Love Actually is smart, funny, charming, and occasionally dizzying. Recommended.
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