I require the following from Richard Curtis:
1. Posh people and stylish almost-posh people.
2. Casually rich living environments or else slightly eccentric (set decorator given free reign) London flats.
3. Clever dialogue spoken in enviable kitchens. Witty love declarations wherever.
4. Weird, obsessive character details that don't make much sense. In this movie it's Rachel McAdams' inexplicable fandom of Kate Moss. More often, it's Curtis's own tendency to reference Kate Winslet, a woman who has never been in any of his films (Movie 43 and not this? It has to hurt.). Maybe this is his way of begging her to accept a role.
4. A moment of heart-rending sadness. (see: Emma Thompson's breakdown in Love Actually, caused by her louse of a husband, played by Alan Rickman (Snape, figures), who gives her a Joni Mitchell CD for Christmas, except Emma Thompson thought she was getting a necklace because she found the box, but no, that was the gift Alan Rickman gave his office girlfriend and he should be imprisoned for making her cry like that.)
5. Contemporary music your parents might still like. Wet Wet Wet. Kelly Clarkson. Cat Power.
And that's it, really. As long as he doesn't make any more films about radio stations on boats then he and I are going to get along fine until one of us dies, which means I'm happy(ish) to report that he's back to handcrafting the sort of vital middlebrow romance people crave.
This one comes with an element of science fiction attached, as the male characters (Domhnall Gleeson, Bill Nighy, as father and son) are able to travel back in time. Low-tech -- it involves a tantrum-like pose of clenched fists and hiding in the kind of clothes closets usually reserved for transporting urchins to Narnia -- this time-travel is the kind you'll only find in a Richard Curtis joint because it involves moving to the past (never the future) and re-configuring minor events to make the present more perfectly romantic and satisfying. Fumble that first sexual experience and get a do-over, several if you need them. Not kiss the right girl? Go get'er again, Tiger. Save the wrong person from the wrong mistake? Then it's your duty to let them fall on the second pass. It's like 50 First Dates for not-morons.
The plot meanders like life meanders, through dating and courtship and marriage and babies and death, as lovers McAdams and Gleeson weather the ups and downs of adorable everyday life. And in the spaces of that glowing, nourished, cuddly state of well-being there are sweet, kind-hearted and amusing truths and aren't deep or necessarily earned cinematically, but they're comforting and warm all the same. If you remember it for very long it will be because you wish time travel were a real thing and Curtis could go back and punch up the script to make it funnier.
But the also-ran version of this kind of thing is a better placeholder than nothing at all and still infinitely preferable to the aforementioned movie about the radio station on the boat (The Boat That Rocked/Pirate Radio, if you must know. Seriously, just don't.) It's almost exactly what you expect from this filmmaker and almost exactly what you need.