Saccharine laden concept romcom for the ADD generation
We're a little late to the dance with this review which is something I'm very sorry for. Mostly sorry for myself, because it means I have to strive harder than usual to find something to say about this flick that hasn't been said before a hundred times. On something this shallow, that's a task I struggle to live up to.
Perhaps this debut directorial effort from Britcom stalwart Richard Curtis lacks depth, but almost makes up for it with an astonishing breadth, telling tales of a huge number of interlinked couples in various stages of courtship. Prime Minister Hugh Grant falls in love with his tea lady, Martine McCutcheon. Perennial Hugh Grant replacement Colin Firth retreats to his holiday home after his lover cheats on him only to fall for Portuguese cleaning lass L?cia Moniz despite neither speaking the others' language. After the death of his wife, Liam Neeson tries valiantly to tutor his 10 year old step-son Thomas Sangster on how to woo the class beauty. Alan Rickman is given ample opportunity to cheat on wife Emma Thompson with his young secretary Heike Makatsch, the question being can he resist temptation? Lapsed rock star Bill Nighy releases an awful Christmas single in hopes of rekindling his career with the support of manager Gregor Fisher. And so on, and so forth.
Something for everyone in this Chrimbo selection box, or so you might think. After all, if you don't like one story strand, wait two minutes at most and it'll shift to another one. There's a downside to this approach, and rather obviously it's that no one really has the time to flesh out their characters to the usual degree and that makes it a little more difficult to care deeply about anyone's plight. Everything is looked at in a rather limited way out of a timeframe necessity rather than the exploration of those aspects being deemed unnecessary. Rather like The Fast Show it's all punch lines and no build-up but without having the time for the 'repeat until funny' stages.
I don't want to sound too harsh on what is, when all's said and done, an enjoyable enough movie for your fiver. There's a gentle undercurrent of amusement that won't bore you, the tales are mildly uplifting, the script is generally sharp and the actors have the raw talent to make up for the lack of character exposition. Without expending any thought on the contents of the film its on a course for four star territory.
Make the mistake of analysing it, as anyone writing about it is sure to do and its faults are glaring, its failures so blindingly obvious that it tarnishes the experience. There are too many characters, there's no focus, no reason to give much of a monkeys about anyone involved. There's a minimum of directorial flair which is probably necessitated by a lack of time for such fancies at the expense of the plot rather than any obvious deficiency on Curtis' part. Indeed, he does about as well as anyone could with his own material.
What's really going to be remembered from the movie is not any of the bite sized chunks of narrative or any of the above failings. A simple scroll down to the credits table reveals the most memorable thing about this flick, namely that it stars so many people I'm continually surprised that I don't find my own name listed there. The cast may be largely British but it still contains some of the finest character and comedy actors that the world has ever seen. Established and dependable names like Rickman, Neeson, Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Bob Thornton, Laura Linney. People who can nail comedy roles like this in their sleep like Grant, Fischer, Firth, Nighy. Some very talented actors more normally seen on U.K. telly than the big screen step up such as Marcus Brigstocke, Andrew Lincoln, the terrifically funny Kris Marshall, the probable genius Martin 'Tim from The Office' Freeman. While they end up being little more than eye candy we've also got Shannon Elizabeth, Claudia Schiffer, Keira Knightley (who I'll happily accept as definitive proof that there is a God and He/She/It loves us) and Denise Richards (who I'll happily accept as definitive proof that Satan hates me with a vengeance).
There have been precious few films with such an assembled talent pool. With a cast like this used to their fullest this ought to be a contender for the greatest film ever made. Despite our near continual bitching at films spreading their talent and stories a bit too thin over too long a run time there's a solid case for this film being nearer three hours long. With the extra time perhaps the characters would feel less half baked and identikit, the stories perhaps a little less hackneyed. On the other hand perhaps it could have sucked the blood out of a dead donkey, so lets derail that train of thought.
There are only two proper issues I can take with Curtis' script. There's a random political rant that seems entirely out of place with the entire rest of the film, Prime Ministers or no. There's a time and place for political commentary and a romcom isn't it. More critical to the film is that it is entirely composed of sweetness and light avoiding the downsides almost entirely. This is not a film for cynics or the recently dumped. Even unrequited love and the possibility of a long standing marriage flying apart are treated with lip service unhappiness, saying nothing of the soul crushing effects such things can have. I suppose it's not called Crushing Despair, Actually so I'll have to let it slide, but this film is all about the upside and perhaps ought to have a Government Health Warning applied to it. Your heart may be at risk if you do not keep up repayments on it.
As I said, I'm being harsh on it. That's only because there was a truly great movie in here somewhere that never quite broke out and I find that terribly frustrating. On a technical level this would struggle two get more than two snowflakes, on an pure entertainment basis it might almost hit the heady four star peaks. Splitting the difference seems a fair way to go about remedying this situation.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Gregor Fisher (Joe)
Colin Firth (Jamie)
Sienna Guillory (Jamie's Girlfriend)
Liam Neeson (Daniel)
Emma Thompson (Karen)
Lulu Popplewell (Daisy)
Kris Marshall (Colin Frissell)
Heike Makatsch (Mia)
Martin Freeman (John)
Joanna Page (Judy)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Peter)
Andrew Lincoln (Mark)
Keira Knightley (Juliet)
Hugh Grant (The Prime Minister)
Martine McCutcheon (Natalie)
Laura Linney (Sarah)
Edward Hardwicke (Sam's grandfather)
Caroline John (Sam's grandmother)
Thomas Sangster (Sam)
Alan Rickman (Harry)
Rodrigo Santoro (Karl)
Marcus Brigstocke (Mikey)
Wyllie Longmore (Jeremy)
Ant McPartlin (Ant)
Declan Donnelly (Dec)
L?cia Moniz (Aurelia)
Billy Bob Thornton (The US President)
Michael Fitzgerald (Michael)
Rowan Atkinson (Rufus)
Olivia Olson (Joanna Anderson)
Claudia Schiffer (Carol)
Shannon Elizabeth (Harriet)
Denise Richards (Carla)