By Isidora (Massachusetts)
Love Actually is one of the few ensemble cast, multiple storyline films that seems to have pervaded popular culture in recent years that actually–pardon the pun–works. Unlike Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve (just to name a few), Love Actually manages to create a cohesive film with an all-star cast and just enough story lines for watchers to be invested in each characters hardships and happiness. Perhaps the greatest success that Love Actually can boast is the expert use of the multiple storyline structure to bring more than one kind of relationship to the forefront of this romantic comedy.
Liam Neeson portrays a recently widowed stepdad, coming to terms with the loss of his wife while learning to care for his love-lorn stepson; Laura Linney plays a lonely ex-pat, unable to invest in her own romantic life because her responsibilities to her mentally ill brother; Bill Nighy demonstrates the love a washed up rock star has for his manager and his constant and only companion throughout his career; Andrew Lincoln, who plays Mark, shows us the bittersweet side of an unrequited love with his best friend’s wife.
All these relationships–father to son, sister to brother, friend to friend, and lover to almost lover–come together to create a beautiful collage of varying human relationships. Of course more typical love interests are also included with Colin Firth’s cross-cultural relationship with his Portuguese employee or Prime Minister Hugh Grant’s love for a member of his household staff. However, the inclusion of these varying types of love all echo the very opening lines of this movie, that “love actually is all around” in the form of “fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends [and] old friends”. Love Actually is truly a tribute to the human experience, as it honors all the different forms that love comes in.
It’s easy to categorize Love Actually as an overdone, overly sugary and clichéd film, but this would ignore all the complications that the movie tackles. The heartbreak, sadness, unrequitedness, and grief that inevitably come with loving–with being so invested in another human–are not only included, but heavily considered throughout this film. Emma Thompson, a dedicated friend and devoted mother and wife, discover that her husband, Alan Rickman, has gifted another woman jewelry for Christmas.
The scene that ensues is impossible to forget as she stands in the bedroom she shares with said husband, her children and husband just on the other side of the wall. The scene is so touching and so evocative because her dilemma is so clear; she’s been betrayed but as she stands in the home that she’s built with her husband, with the family they share together, she cannot let go of their life together. She still loves and it’s because she loves that she was able to be so broken.
Laura Linney’s character, mentioned above, is perhaps an even sadder tale. She sacrifices her love for her coworker Carl, for the love and wellbeing of her mentally ill brother. Love Actually is full of moments, like Laura’s struggle between her own interest and her brothers, or Emma Thompson disillusionment with her marriage, that grapple with real problems, real emotions and real struggles.
Death, infidelity, mental illness, sexual harassment in the workplace and unrequited love are all serious issues dealt with in Love Actually that one would not typically associate with a movie that markets itself as “the ultimate romantic comedy”. However, despite these darker issues, a talented cast manages to create comedic moments even in the face of more serious issues. Of course, there also moments purely created for comedic effect, seamlessly woven in as a result of the multiple storyline structure. Rowan Atkinson’s cameo as a store clerk allows for a lighthearted break from heavier material while the sex-driven Colin’s search for love in America also provides comedic moments.
So many ensemble cast films fall flat in their execution despite being littered with classic tropes and ample star power. Love Actually avoids this failing by making use of a talented cast, evocative emotional scenes, comedic relief and the multiple story line structure that highlights all the kinds of love that exist.