The Hero’s Journey in “Love Actually”

Remember that great scene in Love Actually? I mean the one with the prime minister dancing to the Pointer Sisters. No, the one with the prime minister discovering his driver’s mighty baritone while caroling in the dodgy end of Wandsworth. How about the “To Me, You Are Perfect” scene? Or the musicians busting out “All You Need Is Love” in the church wedding. Rowan Atkinson’s overzealous package-wrapper. Or Billy Mack’s ridiculous Robert Palmer-style Christmas video. Or Billy Mack waggling his junk in the TV host’s face. Or Billy Mack confessing his love for his manager.

Maybe it’s Emma Thompson’s Joni Mitchell breakdown. Or Alan Rickman’s “a classic fool” lament. “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?” The crushing “Bye, Bye Baby” slideshow that makes us tear up for a character we haven’t even met. Colin Frissell unintentionally insulting the caterer. No, Colin Frissell hooking up with the three lovelies in Wisconsin.

All wrong: It’s the fractured-Portuguese wedding proposal. No, it’s the mad dash to save the terrible mystery novel as its pages blow away in the pond. Or it’s the girl busting out “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” “Would we call her chubby?” What about the climactic airport reunions?

Maybe it’s just the whole film, actually.

The chief purpose of movies, which is storytelling. Director Curtis pulls off a spectacular feat of screenwriting, expertly defining 16 principal characters and their relationships, providing each one with a beginning, middle, and end, and making us care about what happens to all of them, plus a few ancillary figures. He does all of this without resorting to cliché: Those memorable scenes I mentioned stick in the mind because they’re so inventively imagined that even after you’ve seen them a dozen times, they still sparkle. We watch again and again because Curtis and his delightful cast sell these characters as real people who are worth the emotional investment.