I don’t know who invented the term “emotional pornography,” but after seeing Love Actually, I know its definition. The phrase bounced into my head during the opening credits, when Hugh Grant’s narration brings up Sept. 11 and ends with “love actually is all around.” About 20 minutes later, Liam Neeson’s character plays a clip from Titanic to cheer up his 11-year-old son after his mother’s death.
Yes, Love Actually channels the emotional subtlety of Precious Moments figurines into more sap than ten acres of Vermont maples. The love that conquers all in this film is a flimsy commercial substitute for the real thing: cute children speak wisely of attraction, the dorky dude lands not one but four beautiful babes and the British prime minister falls for the “chubby girl.”
This may be your scone with clotted cream, but be forewarned: Love, Actually also manages to work in a few scenes sure to brass off much of its Anglophile audience. Want to bring the kids? They’ll love the plot about the porn actor stand-ins and the occasional gratuitous nudity! On a date with a potential mate? You’ll dig those stories about infidelity and loving someone else’s spouse.
I can’t blame Richard Curtis, the man behind this seven-plot goulash (Robert McKee would have stroked out by Act II) for trying. Curtis wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral, a fine film, and Notting Hill, less fine but still a decent smooch-along. However, both of those films delivered some bite. Love Actually abandons story, logic and any connection with reality, throwing more than a dozen different characters on-screen — wistful music playing constantly in the background — to make sure not too many moments pass before another attempt is made at cheap sentiment.
Of the double-decker busload of actors who show up in this wreck, Grant gets the best parts, but can’t make them gel into a coherent whole. Laura Linney and Emma Thompson get to show off weeping skills, but their stories trail off without resolution, and everyone else seems misused to some degree.
Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Maybe Love Actually is a more efficient, super-concentrated form of entertainment that dispatches with needless details to speed up the money shot clock. But for my eight bucks, I’d rather rent The Apartment, the 1960 Jack Lemmon film that created the Christmas romantic comedy genre through the caustic eyes of Billy Wilder. Meanwhile, I’m sure the emo-pornographers are plotting their big 2004 comeback. They think every story has to have a happy ending.
E-mail Justin Hyde at firstname.lastname@example.org.