Monday, March 07, 2005

Actually, Not

And the Erich von Stroheim Award goes to . . . Richard Curtis!

Yes, for his bloated, meandering, plotless, pointless, humorless, romanceless romantic comedy Love Actually, whose running time as released of one-hundred thirty-five minutes (cut from two-hundred ten) put me in mind of the notorious Greed.

The film presents a web of Londoners, all apparently entrants in the Kevin Bacon Sweepstakes for all are a degree of two from one another, a cinematic equivalent of Winesburg, Ohio. With at least nineteen principals (the number credited in the main titles), I had trouble following how everyone was connected and certainly did not begin to care about any of them. But how could I? There are so many of them their introductions are cursory and none can be accused of having even the shadows of a third dimension.

Certainly there are amusing ideas here. Hugh Grant inhabits Number 10, "no nappies, no teenagers, no scary wife" he notes, in contrast to the present occupants. King of the British Geeks Colin Frissell (presumably Rhys Ifans, who played the same part, more or less, in Curtis's Notting Hillwas unavailable), who couldn't get arrested in London, becomes a chick-magnet when he flies to America's Dairyland, Wisconsin. Rowan Atkinson's solicitous jewelry salesman reminded me of John McGiver's turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

A series of loosely connected stories can work, as in The Simpsons' clever "Thirty-two Short Films About Springfield" episode, but only if one knows (or can know) the characters. Curtis has enough material to keep the cast of EastEnders busy for months. (An alumna of that show, Martine McCutcheon, is in Grant's employ, and who he finds himself smitten with.) As a film, however, it is all too much.

What's more troubling is that a film so gung-ho about love should be so utterly devoid of it. Not one of these relationships seemed in the least loving or even natural. Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson as an old married couple, perhaps is exempt from that criticism, but there's no chemistry at all between anyone else, the cloying and contrivedly musical selections' efforts notwithstanding. (Speaking of which, this is a film featuring everyone from Joni Mitchell to Kelly Clarkson to the Bay City Rollers to Wyclef Jean to the Beach Boys, a soundtrack as schizo as the film it accompanies.)

All this musical nonsense puts me in mind of Randy Newman's "Political Science". As a serial recidivist with this sort of film (he's also given us Four Weddings and A Funeral and Bridget Jones's Diary), might I suggest we put Newman's musical suggestion into practice: "Let's drop the big one and see what happens." Maybe with Curtis's flat as ground zero, our long transatlantic nightmare can be over.


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