"I don't want something I need. I want something I want."
After the enormous success of his scripts for 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Notting Hill', and 'Bridget Jones's Diary', British screenwriter Richard Curtis decided to try his hand at directing as well. Naturally, another romantic comedy seemed in order. Not just any rom-com would do, however. With a host of unused story ideas at his disposal, Curtis decided, rather than to choose any one of them, to throw them all into the pot and mix them up to create the romantic comedy to end all romantic comedies. Thus we have 'Love Actually', a film jam-packed with A-list stars and bursting at the seams with intertwining narratives all on the subject of love in the modern age. Somehow, amazingly, it works.
There are at least nine main storylines in 'Love Actually', plus a series of subplots and side-stories. In no particular order, Colin Firth is a recently-divorced author who tries to hide from society in a French villa, only to find himself falling for a Portuguese housekeeper (Lúcia Moniz) that doesn't speak a word of English. Martin Freeman ('The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy') and Joanna Page meet-cute as the body double stand-ins during the filming of the nudie scenes for an erotic thriller. The domestic bliss of newly-married Chewitel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley faces a potential disruption when the bride learns that the groom's best friend has been harboring a major crush on her. A brash young caterer (Kris Marshall) decides that he's struck out with too many British women, and formulates a plan to try his luck in America.
Hugh Grant plays the new British Prime Minister, who has trouble tending to matters of state due to the distraction of his lovely assistant (Martine McCutcheon). Meanwhile, the PM's sister (Emma Thompson) discovers that her husband of many years (Alan Rickman) has been tempted by the wiles of a younger woman at his office. Another of Rickman's employees (Laura Linney) can't start a relationship with the hunk she's lusted after for years (Rodrigo Santoro) because of complications with her mentally-unstable brother.
In perhaps the funniest story, Bill Nighy is a washed-up rocker who decides to implement a policy of total, unflinching honesty in all of the promotional interviews for his latest comeback attempt, an admittedly crappy holiday ballad. Much to the chagrin of his best friend and manager, the only stable relationship he's ever maintained in life, the ploy gives his career a sudden, much-needed boost.
The most emotionally-raw storyline concerns Liam Neeson as a widower attempting to re-establish a relationship with his young stepson (Thomas Sangster). Parallels to the recent tragedy in the actor's real life can't help but make this particular segment of the film very difficult to watch.
Any one of these plot threads might have been enough to form the basis of an entire movie. Instead, Curtis allows snippets of each to swirl around the others, sometimes forming unexpected linkages between them. The downside to this is that not all of the storylines are given enough screen time to fully develop. Colin Firth's segment in particular could use more fleshing out. The caterer and the naked stand-ins are both amusing, but could easily be excised from the film entirely without any negative consequences. In fact, some foreign versions of the movie released in censorious countries did just that to the Freeman/Page section.
Nevertheless, the fragmented structure works despite these issues, primarily due the strength of the cast and the writing. All of the characters are endearing, and the dialogue is uniformly smart and witty. Not every storyline will end with love conquering all. Some are truly heartbreaking.
Even at 2 1/4 hours, the movie glides by in a breeze. It could easily stretch another 15 minutes or so without feeling long. Many romantic comedies make some token attempt to appeal to men as well as women. Most fail. 'Love Actually' is the rare exception that both genders will warm to.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Love Actually' comes to Blu-ray from Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The disc is BD-Live enabled and very slow to load. Upon startup, the disc requires you to manually select a menu language. This must be done every time. Once you get to it, the main menu is filled with spoiler images from the movie.
The movie opens with footage shot on hidden-camera video that looks a little dodgy. Not to worry, the picture clears up nicely right afterwards. The Blu-ray's 1080p/VC-1 transfer is very good for the most part, though not without some flaws. The 2.35:1 image is slick and glossy. Colors are clean and vibrant. The picture is reasonably sharp and has a fair sense of depth. Contrasts generally look acceptable; however, the photography favors bright images and doesn't have a lot going on in the darker part of the scale.
A few scenes are quite grainy, but for the most part the transfer has very little film grain. A light application of Digital Noise Reduction appears to have been implemented. This causes some smoothing of facial features now and again, and a small amount of smearing on occasion. Fortunately, neither problem is severe enough to be terribly distracting. This is a good-looking but imperfect disc.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is clear and adequate. The movie has a standard rom-com sound design. The mix is balanced almost entirely toward the front soundstage, with just the faintest bit of envelopment hitting the surround channels. Dialogue is perfectly intelligible. The music swells up loudly, but lacks much distinction. The track is also shy on low-end activity.
There's nothing particularly wrong with the soundtrack. This just isn't the type of movie one singles out for an audio demo.
The movie is almost entirely in English, but does have a few scenes with Portuguese dialogue. English subtitles are contained within the movie image, and are safe for viewing on Constant Image Height projection screens.
The DVD edition of 'Love Actually' wasn't exactly packed with bonus features. The Blu-ray manages to carry over what little it had.
'Love Actually' is a chick-flick that even men can enjoy without guilt. The Blu-ray isn't anything special in the technical areas or supplements, but does everything well enough to merit a solid recommendation in any case.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.