Love Actually is sentimental fluff, but at least it shows ambition. For his directorial debut, acclaimed screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jonesís Diary et cetera) has a stab at emulating no less than Robert Altman. He weaves seven main plots around 19 characters, mostly in London and with a loose theme about love.The comparison with Altman isnít very fruitful - Altmanís best ensemble films have a satirical edge and are developed out of improvisation. The only edge to this tightly scripted romantic comedy is soggy, although there is considerable compensation from the polished cast of British stars, both old (Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson) and new (Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor).
Bill Nighy virtually steals the film as a lecherous rock star making a shamelessly transparent and desperate attempt at a comeback. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson manage to inject genuine pathos into what otherwise seemed destined to be a dreary story about a failing marriage.
Itís hard not to be seduced by the wishful sentiment, peppy Christmas soundtrack, Michael Coulterís bright cinematography and the joy of recognising so many talented actors shuffle by onscreen, even if only in bit parts. Nearly everyone is upper middle class with fabulous clothes and flawless skin, movie star jobs and a spacious apartment to die for. All are politically right-on, but the black man is quickly sidelined and thereís no trace of unorthodox sexuality. The lower class characters swear like troopers because poor people are funny like that, arenít they?Structurally, Love Actually disintegrates - stories fizzle out early or else have no middle and too much happy ending. Curtis resorts too often to coincidence to manipulate his characters - and our emotions Ė to right where he wants them. The book-ending scenes of reunited loved ones at Heathrow airport are more moving than anything else in the film because they depict real people experiencing real emotion, not glamorous stars in a fairy tale world.