From the sickly sweet opening narration to the grossly sentimental ending, Love Actually is a film that does its utmost to manipulate its audience. Boasting a large roster of British talent, including, amongst others, Andrew Lincoln, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, and Alan Rickman, the film has the potential to be great. That is, if not for the overbearing sentimentality and forced nature of some of the film’s many character arcs.
Although the film, in many respects, is impossibly charming, as displayed by the likeability of some of the film’s cast, several other areas of the film are incredibly off putting. This is mostly due to the appearance of some aspects, such as the relationship between characters, which, if noticed, appear contrived, as well as grossly sentimentalized. These areas, of which I have noted above, may anger some audiences, who feel belittled by the film’s attempts to manipulate their emotional response. This belittlement disengages the audience from many of the story arcs, and also from the respective scenes that work so well. An example of this being the love affair between Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister and the tea lady, Natalie, played by Martine McCutcheon. This arc is perhaps given the most screen time of all, though arguably feels the most redundant of the lot. The composition of said story is meant to inspire endearment towards the bumbling Prime Minister, though it is significant in detaching the viewer from the more realistic aspects of the film, mainly Laura Linney’s arc of the office worker caring for her mentally ill brother, and Emma Thompson’s portrayal of a wife to an adulterous husband (Alan Rickman). Although we are, quite shamelessly, pleaded with to like Grant’s Prime Minister, the detachment from real life is almost too significant to find his portrayal authentic. Also, any subsequent attempts, taken thereon by the film to make itself more realistic, are handled in a rather juvenile manner, which can be seen as undermining the film’s aims by oversimplification; i.e. when the president comes to visit, and the film explores the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the United States of America.
As touched upon briefly before, the more grounded stories are often the most rewarding throughout the film, with Thompson’s part shining as one of the many highlights, from the ensemble cast. Other characters, also to leave their mark, throughout the film’s two-hour run, include the lovesick Mark (Andrew Lincoln), whose arc leads to one of the more memorable moments of the film. This being an inventive ploy to tell the woman he loves that he is indeed infatuated with her, illustrated by the use of cue cards and a portable cd player. These two characters, with the addition of Sarah (Laura Linney) and Jamie (Colin Firth) offer the more enjoyable moments of the film, with the characters appearing the most flawed, and least nauseatingly sweet of the bunch.
In terms of its comedy the film is, for the most part, a hit, with some matures laughs for adults, whilst children will no doubt find the goofier slapstick moments worth their time. The demographic for the film is therefore far reaching, offering an enjoyable, though fairly inconsistent, distraction during the festive season, and beyond. ‘Love Actually’ is a film that will leave many incensed, though many more amused, or entertained.