Good writer, bad director


Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

Richard Curtis knows how to make love seem important. He's also quite funny, and these are both admirable qualities for a screenwriter specializing in romantic comedies. It's easy (and legitimate) to criticize the vaguely amoral worldview or sometimes vulgar dialogue in his movies, but this Brit's winning series of film screenplays (Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary among them) are smarter, funnier, and more romantically involving than all of his stateside competition combined.

In many ways Mr. Curtis's first effort behind the camera, Love Actually, is no exception, although several absolutely horrendous scenes diminish the film's many good qualities. (One storyline, involving two stand-ins for a film shoot rehearsing extremely graphic sex scenes, should have been eliminated entirely.) The multitrack story follows a series of London-based characters through the five weeks leading up to Christmas (a holiday, tellingly, that has no religious significance or symbolism in the film). Each intersecting storyline is a slight variation on the central theme: that, simply put, love is all around.

Mr. Curtis's characters are varied, colorful, well drawn, and, perhaps most appealingly, immeasurably well spoken. And, unlike writers of many modern romantic comedies, he tends to uphold marriage as the ultimate ideal of romantic love. However, it would seem that Mr. Curtis the writer benefits from the creative talents-and perhaps moderating instincts-of a director other than himself. Love Actually's R rating (for sexuality, nudity, and language) is, sadly, well deserved.

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