If one country shines above the rest in the field of television comedy its the Brits. Never hounded by the sitcom formula or network season plans, their shows might be short in number (ie. around six episodes per season) but make up for it far more with the brilliant scripting. A lot of that is due to 'Love' director Richard Curtis, the man who in part was responsible for the likes of such brilliant shows as "Mr. Bean", "The Vicar of Dibley", and the true classic "Blackadder". Curtis made the move to cinema in the 90's and again has hit major success there with the likes of "Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones' Diary" under his belt.
Now comes "Love Actually" and for the first time since "Bean: The Movie" I'm sad to say I'm a little disappointed. As romantic comedies go, 'Love' is an enjoyable puff piece - a sentimental and sweet little ensemble which makes for a perfect date movie and will no doubt have you leaving the theatre with a warm smug feeling. For any other director this would be a success, yet for something from Curtis its surprisingly ordinary. Why is that? Well there is an old cliche that a jack of all trades is a master of none, that applies to 'Love' which stretches itself too far and too thin. With fourteen different characters in at least six different subplots, your given very little time to get to know these people and so various situations and elements are forced whilst the mad rush to get through things and cleverly intermingle everybody means a lot of chances for laughter have been left by the wayside. By being an ensemble piece, its also going to cause interesting reaction from people who'll like some subplots but hate others. Hugh Grant's PM and Bill Nighy's aged rocker are great storylines and work perfectly without getting too trite - each of these would've made a good film in and of themselves. On the flipside Colin Firth and Liam Neeson are given rather depressing and wasted subplots which don't click or feel poorly handled but are saved by their energetic endings. Kris Marshall as a US-bound horny Brit has a fun but pointless little piece, Laura Linney's lusting for her hunky Spanish co-worker starts out well but again becomes too dull and worse - is left totally hanging at the end whilst everyone else gets a nice wrap-up. Also not nicely finished off (although its handled realistically) is Rickman and Thompson who do solid work and early on have some great scenes but again fall into all too familiar soap opera territory. There's a fun one-joke subplot about porn stand-ins but it gets old, fast. Finally wedged in there, Keira Knightley has a maturely handled story about her husband's best friend falling for her - more than can be said for Rowan Atkinson whose cameo is utterly wasted. However its all going to be up to you, each of you will have storylines which you'll like or dislike and many will have fun debating why they prefer one over the other. Production values of the movie are solid all around and Curtis handles the directing job quite nicely. As date movies go its one of the better ones of the year most definitely, but as 'romantic comedies' go it sadly is too melodramatic in the former and too lacking in laughs to be called a real comedy as such. Its a perfectly servicable film and welcome diversion for two hours, but this hasn't the staying or rewatch value of the likes of the far more emotionally impactful "Notting Hill", the far clever "Bridget Jones", the heady fun mix of "Four Weddings", or the sharp wit of "About a Boy". Its thankfully not too strong on sentiment and handles many of its storylines in a quite belivable and relaxed way which is why when it does take the odd 'Hollywood rom comedy' style twist its quite visible. I have faith that Curtis will find his edge again with the "Bridget Jones" sequel, because in the direction he's going with 'Love' he's stepping dangerously closer to Hallmark territory. For the cuddlers out there who like things a little too light and fluffy.