Writer and director Richard Curtis’ love-is-everywhere theme is illustrated by nine interlocking stories and about 23,478 characters—or so it seemed; I lost count somewhere along the line. As a writer, Curtis sometimes hits pay dirt (The Tall Guy
and Four Weddings and a Funeral
); other times (Notting Hill
), he’s a shallow puppeteer pushing our buttons. He’s on manipulative autopilot here: His stories are sketchy and incomplete, as if he wrote several dead-end drafts on the same theme and decided in desperation to roll them all into one movie. Characters are contrived, and plot turns reek of convenience. The great cast (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, etc.) works hard, but first-time director Curtis can’t juggle all these characters without resorting to cheap tricks.