Love Actually: A Rare Rom-Com That Satifies (4K/Blu-ray)
I've probably said it before, but I'd be one of the first to admit that romantic-comedies (more commonly known as "rom-coms") are one of my least favorite genres of film. It's not that I don't enjoy a good romance, or a good comedy, but for some reason, when the two are thrown together, the result is almost always the exact same formulaic structure beat for beat, so it's easy to understand why it would ultimately induce a lot of eye-rolling as the characters check off each cliche on the list. However, every once in a while, a special entry of the genre comes along to show us that it can still be done well with a little effort. One such entry is Richard Curtis' oh-so-charming "Love Actually," which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with a big 4K upgrade, giving us the excuse to go back and revisit it to see why it stands out in a usually-troubled category.
To give you a detailed synopsis on this ensemble-based film would require far too much room, so I'll attempt to stick to the very basics. Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) is a rock star who records a new Christmas version of one of his hits and publicizes it with his manager (Gregor Fisher) in hopes of it reaching number one. Mark (Andrew Lincoln) is the best man at the wedding of his friend Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Juliet (Keira Knightley), the latter of whom he has a secret crush on. David (Hugh Grant) is the recently-elected Prime Minister who falls in love with Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a member of his staff.
Jamie (Colin Firth) is a writer who has recently found out his wife is cheating with his brother, causing him to go to his cottage in France, where he falls in love with Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) the housekeeper. Harry (Alan Rickman) is married to Karen (Emma Thompson), but soon finds himself attracted to his secretary, Mia (Heike Makatsch). Daniel (Liam Neeson), whose wife recently passed, has taken on responsibility for his young stepson, Sam (Thomas Sangster), who has fallen in love with a girl at school. Many of these stories end up intermingled, with an obviously strong sense of love permeating the air.
Right off the bat, it should be said that "Love Actually" isn't exactly going to win many points for originality. This is a tapestry of short, predictable stories that are woven together to form a very broad collection of romances across a wide array of mostly likeable characters. The writing, while fine for the film's purpose, is more a structural foundation for its true strength: its remarkable charm and its incredible ensemble cast.
It's difficult to put into words exactly, but the film simply has an attractive charm about it that pulls you in and keeps you interested. As mentioned, you pretty much know exactly where the stories are going, but you don't really care because the characters are interesting to observe, and their situations are sweet & engaging enough to satisfy, delight, and perhaps even warm your heart a little (and again, I say this as someone who is normally averse to the genre).
But why is the film so charming, aside from its sugary-sweet tales of romantic escapades? Well, it has its marvelously talented cast to thank for a good portion of it. This is simply one of the most impressive ensembles ever put together for any film. Just look at this incredible list: Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bill Nighy (who won a BAFTA Award for his role), Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Rowan Atkinson. On this list are seven Oscar nominees (including before & after the film) and two winners for acting (one before and one after). If you ever wanted to help elevate & sell material that could potentially fall into utter sappiness, getting an A-list cast like this is certainly one way to help make sure that it's packed to the brim with charm instead.
Now the film is not perfect by any means. It does run a little long at 135 minutes, and could easily have stood to lose a couple of the superfluous storylines. In particular, the segments involving Martin Freeman as a stand-in on a porn film and another involving a young man named Colin (Kris Marshall), who goes off to America to find a girlfriend, could have easily been lost to make the film a little tighter. Still, they don't get in the way too much. They just make the film several minutes longer than it needs to be, telling stories that don't really add anything to the mix.
Overall, the film is just a delightful, pleasant surprise. Again, it doesn't completely break the mold of the standard rom-com, but at least it doesn't go down the list and check off every single cliche on the way down. This is more like you're flipping back and forth to different channels to keep up with several different colliding shorts, all of which happen to be romances starring some incredible talent. If you're already a fan of the genre, you've probably already seen it many times over the last 20 years as it's established itself as a classic, but even if you're not (again, like me), you just might find yourself caught up in the magnetic charm of this rare example that stands out from the rest.
4K: BD 66, Dolby Atmos
Blu-ray: 1080p, Dolby Atmos
Feature Commentary with Director Richard Curtis and Actors Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and Thomas Sangster
Making Love Actually
The Music of Love Actually
Kelly Clarkson “The Trouble with Love is” Music Video
Billy Mack “Christmas is All Around” Music Video
Richard Curtis' "Love Actually" hardly reinvents the rom-com with its tapestry of intertwining romances, but it presents them with an abundance of pleasant charm and with an exceptional A-list cast, making this one of the few films that overcomes the cliches and predictability of the standard formulaic approach to become a surprisingly sweet & engaging example of the genre done right.
Available on 4K/Blu-ray sting today.
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