"Love Actually" is an offbeat Christmas package, starting with its R rating. There are a few moments when I thought "Sex Actually" would be a more accurate title.
There's nothing wrong with aiming a Christmas picture at older folks, of course, and grown-ups will certainly be enticed by the glittering cast.
A romantic comedy-drama has to make sense, though, and "Love Actually" doesn't, actually.
Set mostly in London, the picture has several stories. One features Hugh Grant as the prime minister who's infatuated with his assistant. Another follows an aging pop singer (Bill Nighy) who's all too honest about the sappiness of his new Christmas song. Yet another centers on a mystery writer (Colin Firth) and a Portuguese maid (Lucia Moniz) who fall in love.
There's also the prime minister's sister (Emma Thompson) and her straying husband (Alan Rickman), an office worker (Laura Linney) with a psychotic brother, a single dad (Liam Neeson) with a precocious kid, a duo of porn stars, and other characters.
You may find "Love Actually" less far-fetched than I did if you can believe that a prime minister - with Hugh Grant's looks and charm - has nothing to do on Christmas Eve but pout around his office. Or that the pop singer could get away with spouting obscenities on TV and radio shows. Or ... the examples are endless.
Sometimes the movie seems bent on sabotaging itself. The most poignant subplot, about Ms. Linney's character, is left dangling with no resolution. The picture tries to earn points by breaking stereotypes, then reaffirms them a few reels later - the prime minister is smitten with a chubby woman, for instance, but this twist comes undone with a string of nasty "fat jokes."
Watching all this is like looking under the Christmas tree and finding everything you ever wanted (all those stars!) and everything you don't want (all that bathroom humor!) shoved into one carelessly wrapped package. Open at your own risk.
• Rated R, contains sex, nudity, and vulgar language.