Genre: Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 15 min.
Release Date: November 14th, 2003 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Richard Curtis Actors: Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Alan Rickman, Rodrigo Santoro, Billy Bob Thornton, Martine McCutcheon, Joanna Page, Kris Marshall, Gregor Fisher, Heike Makatsch, Lucia Moniz
ove is everywhere.” As on-the-wane rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) records a cover version of a classic song for the Christmas season, hoping to get to #1 in England as part of a comeback at any price, Daniel (Liam Neeson) contends with the death of his wife, whose passing also, expectedly, has a significant effect on his young stepson (Thomas Sangster). Meanwhile, Jamie (Colin Firth) discovers that his girlfriend (Sienna Guillory) has been cheating on him – with his own brother of all people; the new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) is getting settled in, immediately eyeing a curvy secretary (Martine McCutcheon); middle-aged manager Harry (Alan Rickman) is on the verge of having an affair, which could ruin his marriage to Karen (Emma Thompson); Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has just gotten married to Juliet (Keira Knightley), but pal Mark (Andrew Lincoln) holds an uncomfortable secret; Sarah (Laura Linney) can’t bring herself to talk to coworker Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), despite everyone in the office knowing that they’re wild about each other; John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page) get rather close as they stand in for sex scenes on a movie shoot; and Colin (Kris Marshall) is getting fed up with his lack of success with the local ladies, spurring a trip overseas where the selection is better. And Christmas is just five weeks away.
As writer/director Richard Curtis’ medley of seemingly unrelated love stories unfolds, a simply superb soundtrack of popular songs and momentous orchestral themes sets the mood, while also helping to transition scenes. Moving from one group of characters to the next, or segueing between various events is always done with an upbeat tune or thoughtful notes, never feeling invasive or overbearing. His selections are astute, fitting, and virtually nonstop, as if a massive playlist to narrate the ups and downs of this wide assortment of romantic yarns. It even serves to fill in some of the gaps in dialogue – shaping the story, relating emotions, or amplifying the humor.
“Worse than the total agony of being in love?” The countdown to Christmas continues (suddenly it’s four weeks, then three), creating a sense of urgency for all of these disparate people to get their love lives in order before the big day. As everyone searches for love (or reevaluates it), these vignettes tend to break the emotion into categories and types, demonstrating the pain or joy of unrequited love, missed connections, poor communications, thinly stretched attentions, inconvenient unions, fantastical experiences, platonic relationships, infidelity, love by chance, love at first sight, and more. There’s even a small, precocious child who claims to be in love. The participants are either pairing up, stumbling into relationships, recognizing the significance of their encounters, working to seduce targets, or being matchmakers for others; and they’re from all walks of life – from the unemployed to the wealthy to government officials to businesspeople to just terribly average. Love doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the potential for ecstasy and misery, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Fascinatingly, as the movie progresses, the characters become more and more interconnected, whether they merely live next door, happen to work in the same industry, attend the same function, share the same friends, or coincidentally inhabit the same spaces. Amusingly, despite the drastically different ways in which love complicates their goals, nearly everyone remains hopeful; these are all unusually spirited, positive personas, which lends to the cheeriness of the season and the romantic levels of their struggles. There’s a sweetness to the majority of the tales and a desire to see these characters win out in the end (though Curtis doesn’t fail to include some intermittent heartbreaks).
Unfortunately, as with many anthological pictures, not every segment possesses the same strength and poignancy as the next. Some are unavoidably better than others. Jamie’s might be the best (perhaps made most striking by its resolution), Sarah’s is the most saddening, Colin’s is the most whimsical, and Karen’s the most crushingly realistic. Nevertheless, a few don’t receive enough screentime, while others get too much; with the way the narrative is structured, audiences may want to see more of the characters they grow to love, and less of the ones that serve as too fanciful or as transient subplots. Still, by the conclusion, the combination of down-to-earth lovers, foolish ones, embarrassing ones, disheartening ones, and triumphant ones (and ones that could only exist in a movie) creates an endearing collection of touching sketches that are frequently sentimental yet thoroughly grand. And the music is always there to elevate even the lesser stories, building to a heartwarming, incredibly satisfying close.
– Mike Massie