"Love Actually" is a farrago of romances fulfilled and unfulfilled, and despite being overstuffed with what appears to be half of London coupling and uncoupling, still manages to be lovely, touching and good fun. To begin at the top, we have the new Prime Minister (Hugh Grant), a bachelor barely a day in office, falling for his tea steward (Martine McCutcheon). And Bill Nighy as an aging rock star, witty and ironic, who knows better than anyone how bad his work is - a Keith Richard without the talent - letting it all hang out on various interview shows and finally admitting that he loves (as a friend) his longtime and long-suffering manager.
There is the married couple Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, and Rickman's sexy secretary with whom he risks adultery, leaving Thompson to face a future stained by the recurrent possibilities of her husband's affairs. And writer Colin Firth, cuckolded by his own brother, taking a cottage in the south of France where he falls for the beautiful Portuguese maid Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). Neither speaks a word of the other's language, and the subtitled conversations are delicious.
There's Liam Neeson, newly widowed, with his 11-year-old stepson who himself is in love with a girl who doesn't know he's alive. There are almost more couples and would-be couples than you can count. But somehow writer-director Richard Curtis, who got his start writing for Rowan Atkinson's television shows, then wrote "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Bridget Jones's Diary," manages to hold things together, albeit barely. If I've made the film sound heavy or stupid, well, love and romance are often heavy and stupid too. But they, and the film, are salvaged by Curtis's multiple stories; he doesn't hold them a moment too long. And he leavens things with a cameo by Billy Bob Thornton as the randy and smug United States president come for a state visit, and by overheated Kris Marshall, who can't get laid in the United Kingdom, it seems, and fantasizes that American girls will fall all over themselves once they meet him. So he hops a plane for, where else, Milwaukee, backpack filled with condoms, tells the airport cab driver to take him to a bar, and - guess what - has all his dreams fulfilled in spades.
"Love Actually" is probably one episode too long, but for an aging romantic like me it seemed just right.