Or, the movie deeply in love with itself
The word iconic is thrown around rather loosely these days by the entertainment media. Last May, a host of one of the TV entertainment magazines - maybe "Entertainment Tonight," perhaps "The Insider" - was going on and on about a new short that's a sequel to an "iconic movie."
I never watch these shows but I sat down in anticipation. I had to know the name of the classic movie involved. Finally, the title was revealed.
"Love Actually" (2003) is one of the last films I reviewed professionally and I hold it solely responsible for my leaving a career that so many deluded movie buffs covet. I retired in 2004 while I was still healthy and relatively young. I remember sitting there thinking, "Life is way too short."
I couldn't take the relentless assembly-line release of films anymore, especially when so many were so bad but yet still managed to attract adoring audiences. Case in point: This posh British romcom - the romcom to end all romcoms - which I credit with my much-craved liberation.
"Love Actually" was the first film directed by Richard Curtis who, up to that point, was known largely for his scripts, most notably "Notting Hill" (1999) and "Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001). (Next up: his script for Disney's live-action remake of "The Little Mermaid.") Curtis has since helmed only two other titles - the not-bad "Pirate Radio" (2009) and "About Time" (2013), which is curious considering the on-going popularity of "Love Actually."
Headed by a huge (and hugely impressive) A-list cast, Curtis' film is about eight couples dealing with love and misunderstanding in London during Christmas. That's right, eight couples - that means 16 major characters, not one worthy of my time. And their problems really aren't problems.
Curtis' starry cast is ill-used, with many formerly companionable actors suddenly/surprisingly annoying. Emma Thompson's familiar precise enunciation takes on a superior edge here, while reliable Bill Nighy is unappealingly smug. Hugh Grant resorts to his trademark tics. He stutters and flails in a performance that seemingly threatened to bring his career to an end - until his winning return in "Florence Foster Jenkins."
And Laura Linney, the film's token American, is sadly wasted in a rather insulting role. There are many other talented actors involved, but I'll stop here. (Oh wait! I should also note an unctuous child actor under foot.)
The film is precious and so self-satisfied it seems to be constantly hugging itself. When my review drew hate mail, I asked around about its seductive powers and was told that it was a "gender thing" - that only women can truly appreciate it. But that explanation only further depressed me.
Thanks to the vagaries of studio release patterns, "Love Actually" opened the year that HBO's "Sex and the City" ended its run and it apparently benefited from the timing. It inherited Carrie Bradshaw's audience.
Sure, "Sex and the City" could also be annoying but its appeal was always apparent - and, unlike "Love Actually," I never had the urge to slap it.
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~Liam Neeson and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in "Love Actually"
~photography: Peter Mountain/Universal Studios 2003 ©