A collection of eight intertwined love stories set in a picture postcard version of London and Marseilles.
It is a credit to the director Richard Curtis that he is able to assemble such a stellar cast. As an example Claudia Schiffer, Rowan Atkinson (in a rather superfluous role), Billy Bob Thornton, Denise Richards & Elisa Cuthbert appear only in brief scenes.
A film such as this should have a health warning to other filmmakers. Do not try this at home, without the class of acting talent on offer – it will not work.
The separate vignettes are tied together against a soundtrack of aging rocker Billy Mack’s (Bill Nighy) attempt, to once more assail the Christmas number 1 pop chart, with a lame “re-imagining” of the mega hit “Love is all around”. Nighy together with his tireless manager Joe (Gregory Fisher), play this for all it’s worth, certainly providing enough energy, politically incorrect sound bites & a outrageous Robert Palmer rip off video, to carry the film by themselves – “Hey kids don’t buy drugs, be a pop star and get them for free”, Billy deadpans on Ant & Dec’s “yoof” show.
Juliet (Kiera Knightly) clearly demonstrates that if she continues to choose wisely she could be a very big star indeed. Despite Marrying Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor, in a thankless role) the real man chasing her from afar is her new husbands gallery owning best friend, Mark (Andrew Lincoln). Mark’s wedding video disproving that there was anyone else at the wedding apart from his only love Juliet in extreme close up.
We follow Colin (Kris Marshalls) desperate attempt to find true love (or rather easy sex) by flying to Milwaukee. Of course, being the movies he is immediately drawn into a Ménage a quatre within minutes of touch down. Presumably we are intended to take all of this with a whole cellar of salt whilst pressing our tongues firmly into our cheeks.
The last of the lighter tales involves the newly elected and single, British Prime Minister (Hugh Grant). Yes, you did read that right. Grant falls for his tea lady, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), a girl from the dodgy end of Wandsworth. Grant makes no obvious attempt to amend his usual persona and with McCutcheon reprising her Elisa Doolittle stage role, this segment is perhaps the weakest part of the film, despite some amusing scenes & Billy Bob Thornton appearing winningly as the visiting US President.
Jamie Bennett (Colin Firth) runs away to write, following the revelation that his brother is keeping his wife amused. The Portuguese cleaning lady assigned to him (Lucia Moniz), provides the love interest and is well acted without a common language to communicate with each other, aside of the looks they exchange.
Karen (Emma Thompson), the PM’s sister attempts to keep the whirlwind of her family on track, whilst her Oxfam running husband Harry (Alan Rickman) thinks charity may indeed begin at the office, with extremely available Mia (Heike Makatsch). Emma Thompson is especially good in this segment clearly detailing the pain Harry is causing as he drifts towards an away game.
Sarah (Laura Linney) dotes on the office hunk, Karl (Rodrigo Santoro) but struggles to act whilst at the mercy of a devotion to her mental hospital interned brother, who clearly knows her mobile number all too well.
Judy (Joanna Page) & John (Martin Freeman) act as Porn film lighting stand in’s. This involves them in performing pretend naked sex acts without knowing each other well enough to ask each other out for a drink. “Can you fondle her breasts”, asks the director. “Is that all right” John asks politely. Although somewhat unnecessary & unconnected, we get some good laughs and this provides an insight into how bizarre shooting film sex scenes must be.
Lastly and perhaps the best segment, revolves around Daniel (Liam Neeson) and his ten year old (going on 40) stepson Sam (Thomas Sangster). Both are struggling to come to terms with their loss of wife and mother respectively. The scenes between them work well and despite the weak premise of their predicament, Sam is in love with girl at school, it would have been good to have spent more time with them rather than a bumbling Hugh Grant on auto pilot.
Audiences will love this confection of non reality where nobody does any work and falls in and out of love, set against backdrop that would make the London Tourist board blush.
Not all the story strands are tied away neatly, which is the right way to go, leaving the audience to wonder. Curtis again manages to elicit some good performances but perhaps a ”less is more” approach, paring away a couple of segments, might have made for a better film.