Richard Curtis's latest is a labor of love, actually
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"It's a good reminder that love takes many forms," says American actress Laura Linney, who stars as an office worker who tries to balance familial love for a mentally unbalanced brother with her desire for a co-worker, an effort that ultimately fails. But, says the actress, that's part of the point of the film. "To limit your choices," she says, "limits your resources as a person."Skip to next paragraph
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Balancing so many competing storylines proved daunting and unwieldy: The first version of the script clocked in at nearly five hours. "The challenge was to come up with nine good beginnings, good middles, and good endings," says Curtis.
Curtis began as a TV writer, working with longtime partner Rowan Atkinson (who has a great cameo as a jewelry clerk who takes his time wrapping a gift intended for an adulterous liaison).
This work shaped the writer's style. "I don't understand not wanting to please an audience," he says. Also, and in the end perhaps most important, he learned the art and craft of editing.
"We'd start out with 15 sketches, then we'd take the best three," he says, adding, "editing is second nature to me."
This particular penchant is a lifesaver when it comes to weaving together so many storylines in a nice, tight Christmas package of a film. "The film is so economical," says Andrew Lincoln, whose character pursues an unrequited love. "Everything is distilled and refined, you fill in the dots outside the film," he says, largely because each story was allocated no more than four to five scenes each.
"Working with Richard is like having a scientific lesson in comedy," says Colin Firth, whose cuckolded writer falls for his Portuguese housekeeper, even though the two don't share a language in common. The actor is currently filming another Curtis screenplay, the sequel to the "Bridget Jones's Diary." Firth's assessment of Curtis: "He's the best in the business when it comes to romantic comedy."
The film has had mixed reviews. Curtis supporters chalk this up to an endemic postmodern cynicism about the tender emotions. "There's a lot of hiding behind irony and flaunting worldiness," says Firth. "But for anyone who is weary of that, this is welcome."
Bringing an adult sensibility to the mainstream romantic comedy is Curtis's real contribution to the film world, says Gary Edgerton, coeditor of the Journal of Popular Film & Television. This is a genre that has been hijacked by the teen date movie.
"When you think of the broader romantic comedies of Hollywood, [Curtis' films] are clearly stronger in character," says Mr. Edgerton, with more subtleties and a slower pace.
Curtis's movies are hybrids, neither pure art-house film nor pure popcorn flick. "They have ... a level of subtlety you don't find even in films like 'When a Man Loves a Woman.' "
Without question, the most unexpected love story in the film is between a jaded, aging rock star who finds, after a long night of partying, that the closest relationship he has to love is with his long-suffering manager. "It's completely platonic love," says Bill Nighy, who plays the singer. "It's with someone I've taken for granted my whole life. It's a tender, moving moment that just happens with friends sometimes."