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It may be a paradox to say that a film can sparkle slowly, yet that's
the only way I can describe this charming romantic comedy. The
star(dom)-crossed lovers don't know that they are Meant For Each Other
... yes, this is the standard RomCom setup. But the -way- they don't
know? That is put across in a most British and deliberate pace and
setting. And it makes the ending that we all know is coming gather
color and charm.
"Notting Hill" takes over a third of its running time to show William (Hugh Grant) as he is immersed in his daily life, wanting to be supportive of his friends, yet searching for his own inner life. The five closest friends all show something he lacks: "happy" conformity, a loving marriage transcending obstacles, a sister who takes bold risks for finding love, and a roommate that sees through pretense and says so (and, yes, is delightfully vulgar).
That very British character-in-a-wry-setting pattern borrows from "Four Weddings and a Funeral," but the only friends there that I could consistently believe -mattered- to Grant's character were the gay couple, one comic, the other showing profound emotion. Here, all of the lead character's circle deeply cares about him, as he does about them. This makes all the difference.
Where it matters most is in giving him support when the American film beauty (Julia Roberts) comes into his life, then out, then in, then ... and all in ways that are believable for such dissimilar lovers. The romantic turns are more plausible because Grant's character has such support and a place for sharing his emotional roller-coaster ride. He isn't crushed by the down moments, but picks up his individuality and moves on. And his friends tell him, sometimes with only searching looks, just when he's picked up -too much- of being on his own. (Okay, the moment towards the end when Spike puts his exasperation into three pointed, even vulgar, words is a refreshing change. Sometimes, when a friend lets loose with the pithy truth, it hits the needed spot.)
All this backstory, character richness, and pointed use of the "right" words are British qualities that we don't get with the standard American RomCom setup.
Gina McKee's turn here as Grant's wheelchair-bound female friend is of someone with deeply felt individuality and unique perceptiveness, including her own tender perspective on loves past and present - especially her husband. It's a glimpse into a woman with distinctive qualities that -she- has chosen. This makes her both appealing to all her friends, and forceful by quiet understatement. She also ends up being much funnier, when you've rewound the tape and end up thinking about the story. (Listen for her spoken turn on "standing up." No, it's not a cheap play on her limitations. Not in context. And that's subtle comic acting.)
Richard Curtis's inventive screenplay is one of the best in years, and would reward a look in book form as well. He takes this backdrop of supportive friends, puts in the sparkle of Roberts invading and shaking up their world, and creates a skein of personal truths and imposed celebrity nonsense.
Grant and Roberts are both passionate and bemused observers of the absurdities of fame that end up surrounding them, but they act this out in comic byplay and inventive responses. This isn't an American breakneck-pace (or "screwball") comedy, and their subtle discovery of each other's -minds- and substance wouldn't work in such a setting.
Roberts has both the easy familiarity with and the hair-trigger of frustration from fame, both coming out to undermine her when she least expects it. But she shows that she can grow and learn from her mistakes. (Unlike her well-acted but overexplained realization at the end of "Runaway Bride.") She even has one scene -sans- makeup that is a genuine romantic turning point. I don't see many other actresses being willing to try that.
Grant shows an astonishing inner strength and self-awareness, not being willing to hide how -he- sees reality. (He did the same realistic turn in "Four Weddings," but didn't try nearly as effectively to figure himself out.)
The photography and settings show off London beautifully, and the story's interior scenes make highly imaginative use of a narrow, stacked-up Notting Hill mini-townhouse.
I do feel the director fails to take up some opportunities to build on the comic or dramatic moments in the screenplay. He coasts on the words. They're excellent words, but they need a twist at times.
My only take-off-a-point[*] quibble is with the music. It's mostly popular tunes that underscore the action. One of these is luminous, and frames the story perfectly - Elvis Costello's cover of "She." Others, though, use their lyrics to overstress plot points. Some are performed too high in volume, sometimes lapping against dialogue.
(The two original themes by Trevor Jones are beautiful, lushly written, and quite fitting to the main characters. We should have had more of his work, but they're less than a fourth of the film's music.)
The British often put more creativity below the narrative surface and into the setting than Americans do, and often get beyond formula. To discover this in a film is joyous. You'll feel this when you find yourself compelled to see this deeply felt, yet very funny, film twice, thrice, or more. For me, it's still delightful after nine months and nine viewings.
[* Edited on 21 April 2011: After another decade and another ten viewings, this love story has only become more resonant and beautiful. The pop-song choices feel notably less obtrusive. The acting of both Roberts and Grant has evinced more depth. And I see no reason to not give it a full 10 rating.]
Notting Hill is a district of west London that was built as a
fashionable Victorian suburb, became very run down during the mid
twentieth century and is now once again fashionable, but which retains
a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere, with London's biggest street
market and many small specialist shops. (My wife and I sometimes go
there to shop for bargains). The hero of the film, William Thacker, is
the owner of one of these shops, a travel bookshop. The film concerns
the romance which develops between William and a young woman named Anna
Scott whom he meets when she comes into his shop.
As another reviewer has pointed out, 'Notting Hill' is based around a theme, love between people of unequal social standing, which has provided literature with some of its greatest works, both comic and serious, dating back at least to the tale of King Cophetua and the beggar-maid. Although many of these stories tell of a poor but honest lad who aspires to the hand of a princess or titled lady, Anna is not part of the Royal Family or the British aristocracy. She rather belongs to an even more exclusive elite, the Hollywood starocracy. She is a hugely popular film star who earns at least $15,000,000 per film, and pops into William's shop during a brief stay in London to publicise her latest movie.
Although Anna is played by a real-life Hollywood superstar, Julia Roberts, the film is very typically British. William is similar to an number of other Hugh Grant characters, being a shy, diffident middle-class Englishman, probably public-school and university educated. (Despite this background, he is not particularly wealthy following a divorce from his first wife and is forced to share his lodgings with an eccentric Welsh flatmate, Spike). The humour of the film, particularly the dinner-party banter between William and his friends, is mostly of the typically ironic, self-deprecating variety popular in Britain, especially in middle-class circles. Rhys Ifans's Spike, by contrast, typifies another strand of British humour, the eccentric zaniness found in the likes of 'Monty Python'. Spike's strong provincial accent suggests a more working-class background; this possibly accounts for the teasing that he has to put up with from the other characters, although he takes it all in good part.
William may be diffident, self-deprecating and unsuccessful, but he is probably the stronger of the two main characters. Anna is beautiful and successful, but underneath it all she is insecure, worried about losing her fame and fortune and about her inability to form lasting relationships with men. Early on in the film she has another boyfriend, Jeff, but it is clear that he is only the latest in a long string of unsatisfactory romances which have left her emotionally (and in some cases physically) bruised. The scene where Anna says to William 'I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her' is the one where we see her at her most vulnerable. Although both characters are in their late twenties or thirties, it is noteworthy that Anna refers to 'girl and boy' rather than 'woman and man'. Anna's vulnerability also comes through in her reaction in the scene where hordes of paparazzi appear on William's doorstep; William tries to play down the incident, and Spike finds it hugely amusing, but Anna is horrified. (The film was made shortly after the death of Princess Diana; this scene possibly reflects British disgust with the antics of the paparazzi, who were regarded as being partly to blame for the Princess's death). Like others, I found myself wondering how much Anna's personality reflects Julia Roberts's own; she too has had a number of unhappy relationships.
Important roles are also played by Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee as William's best friend Max and his disabled wife Bella; the love of this ordinary couple for each other provides a more realistic, down-to-earth counterpart to the fairy-tale romance of William and Anna, helping to anchor the film more firmly in reality. The main charm, however, lies in the relationship of the two main characters, as Anna comes to realise that the seemingly ordinary William has a kindness and decency which count for more than the monstrous egos of Jeff and his like. Like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', which was also written by Richard Curtis and starred Hugh Grant, 'Notting Hill' is one of the warmest and most human British films of the nineties. 7/10
Notting Hill proves one thing -- jokes lie in the oddest places. This film
is an excellent vehicle for Julia Roberts to put her own life as an actress
under the microscope. While Roberts' "Anna Scott" character isn't an
autobiographical figure, the Scott character allows for some biting satire
at the life of Roberts herself. Need I mention some excellent one liners in
the film like the sister of Hugh Grant... "I feel like we are sisters", an
excellent throw-back to "My Best Friend's Wedding"... or my favourite, a
discussion about nude body doubles just before a nude Julia Roberts (or a
Julia Roberts body double) crosses the screen.
Apart from the small bit of satire, Grant's character plays on the emotions of every guy who has ever unexplainably fell in to, threw orange juice-on, lost out on, and fell back in to love. Roberts character can only help us understand how such a relationship as the one her and Grant share in the movie, could be "Surreal, but nice."
A sweet film surely not to be missed!
Visually lovely, "Notting Hill" becomes an enchanting fairy tale.....a
magical and endearing love story, from the opening credits to an afternoon
of quiet sharing in a London park. Being a romantic at heart, I was
emotionally drawn to this well produced and entertaining motion picture,
enticing me to view it a number of times more.
Some friends have indicated that the "plot" is boring and in 2 hours and 4 minutes takes too long to come to an expected conclusion. But the lyrical chemistry between William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) give intimate glimpses into the human heart and spirit. As in Mary Poppins when Burt jumps into the chalk sidewalk drawing, I longed to join this tapestry of two people falling in love, among caring friends and relatives. To longingly look into Anna's eyes and to see a reflection of your very own soul of hope and humanity may seem less than exciting to some people.....too involved in their fast paced, action world and who fail to see the beauty of life around them....to smell the roses.
Watching the inflections of Julia Robert's face became a mesmerizing cinema experience. And Hugh Grant's thoughtful and honest, yet quirky presence gave hope to what could be possible. Then wrap all this with a humorous, loving and insightful group of friends and family......WOW!
After watching "Notting Hill" with my wife and giving her a big hug, I saw that she was just a girl, standing in front of a boy, wanting to be loved!
What greater joy of meaning can be given by a film?
"Teach me the Magic of Wonder, Give me the Spirit to Fly" - John Denver
Not usually impressed with Romantic Comedies, i found this one
strangely compelling. It really was a nice movie, littered with great
characters, especially Spike played by Rhys Ifans (Hilarious).
The story demonstrates to the extreme that love can occur between the most unlikely of people, and the humorous portrayal of this, is both touching and realistic. And i mean realistically created, not necessarily true realism.
Worthy of your attention, this well written romantic comedy is a must for fans of the genre and is a good gamble if your not.
Can lightning strike twice? Well with writer Richard Curtis it has! I
understand he wrote this screenplay and completed it before he realised
just how similar it was to his previous hit, Four Weddings and a
Let's examine this a second: Hugh Grant is the hero; There's an elusive and glamorous American that he falls for; He has a circle of friends, each in their own way a success AND a failure in life, and yet Hugh's character (William Thacker) is somehow trailing them all; there's the kooky yet endearing sister; the character with a tragic disability; a complete buffoon of a sidekick; and several near-misses.
Yet it's all so thoroughly entertaining, AGAIN. It's like a delicious dish, and its recipe for success is cooked up time and again by Curtis as Jamie Oliver's older and wiser brother.
As a single bloke in this day and age I AM William Thacker, and I AM Charles in Four Weddings. So on the one hand you'll have parts of the audience identifying with the hero, and parts of the audience wanting the hero to be their real-life partner. Yet character empathy alone is not enough to carry a film.
The path that the hero follows needs to be a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down, but it's never boring. In fact, the pacing is assuredly steady just as, in one excellent scene, we see the indication of time passing in an extremely effective way. I feel that Curtis learnt from Four Weddings and tightened the strings on the time line in this movie. Where Four Weddings very occasionally crawls, Notting Hill paces along assuredly.
In addition, our hero's roller-coaster ride must be believable. Could this really happen? Why not? Do movie stars ALWAYS fall for other celebrities?
So what of the performances? Well Hugh Grant is really Hugh Grant (again) in this role. But isn't that why we go to see Hugh Grant movies? He's funny yet tragic, vulnerable yet assured, and I can't imagine anyone else playing William.
Julia Roberts is one of those stars who, love her or hate her, delivers in every role. She's very believable as Anna Scott, showing the resolute public charm of a movie star, whilst exposing the hidden human frailty behind Hollywood's finest. And this despite the undoubted (and wholly false) criticism that she's simply playing a movie star like she in fact is. She perhaps COULD have leaned back and simply ambled through the movie expecting it to be an easy role for her, but in a truly professional manner, she's sought to add depth and weight to her character.
The rest of the cast sparkle in their roles, most notably Rhys Ifans as Spike. But even without the requisite comedy set pieces that Rhys revels in, actors of class such as Tim McInnerny, James Dreyfus, Gina McKee, Emma Chambers and Hugh Bonneville expertly fill in the no-less important landscape of this joyous and warm piece of art.
Watch out, too, for memorable cameos by Alec Baldwin, Mischa Barton and Matthew Modine.
So who is Cinderella and who is the Prince? At first glance William is the hopeful nobody. But really, as the story develops, we'll see that there are two character's dreams unfolding in Notting Hill.
Why then not 10 out of 10? Well, full marks would have been ME starring as William Thacker... ;)
Notting Hill, this totally implausible, happily improbable, feel good
flick, does more to influence positive attitudes about people with
disabilities than any all day sensitivity training seminar could ever
hope to accomplish.
As significant as the two leading characters is the ever-present, fanciful circle of friends. Wouldn't we all love to have a close group of intimate chums like these! The collection of assorted characters includes Bella, a woman who uses a wheelchair, a sleek Quickie Ultralight at that. I love the easy nonchalance of her introduction to the viewer. She is merely one of many diverse folks in the day-to-day life of William Thacker, the film's protagonist.
In one after-dinner scene, the group sits around a big, friendly, worn farmhouse table, consuming way too much wine and sharing what stinks about their life. Bella reveals that she and her husband discovered they cannot have children. I like that she also dares make a complaint about "sitting in this damn chair". She is being honest; she is not burdening herself with feelings that she should sugar-coat her life for others. Nor does she feel compelled to be upbeat and cheerful no matter the cost to her own integrity.
This character lives a typical, dare I say "normal" life. She is married, throws parties, gets drunk on occasion, and interacts with the able bodied world around her . . . all with unaffected naturalness. I like the message this sends to the viewing public: people with disabilities are a whole lot like people without disabilities.
In a scene when Anna Scott and William Thacker leave the birthday party celebration, the very first words out of Anna's mouth are, "Why is Bella in a wheelchair?" This is precisely, to the letter, as it would be in real life. When folks come in contact with a person with an obvious disability, they understandably want to know what happened.
Bella's husband tenderly lifts her out of her wheelchair to carry her up the staircase to bed. My thermometer was on . .. testing for feelings of excessive sympathy or sorrow in myself or in the audience. There were none. There was only empathy, warmth, and tenderness, much of what one would feel watching any loving couple where the man lifted the woman over a doorstep, for instance, into their first home. Kudos to the director and the actors for not playing the pity card here. Thankfully no soaring violins tugged at our tear ducts.
As the culminating scene of the movie approaches, the group of friends all impulsively jump into a small European car to race off. There was Bella left waving goodbye from her Quickie. No, wait a minute. This was not to be. They wanted Bella with them; she belonged with them on this mission. There were no complicated maneuvers of how will we squeeze her into the car, what will we do with the wheelchair, no exasperation from the characters. They just did it. They made it happen. Before we knew it, Bella was sitting in the front seat; a few others had rearranged their positions and crammed into the back seat, and off they all went charging away full speed ahead.
In a final scene, the friends are attempting to 'crash a private party' so to speak, and having trouble getting past the hotel management. In a boldly triumphant move, Bella comes wheeling authoritatively toward the hotel bureaucrat, confidently announcing in a power voice: "He is with ME. I am so-and-so from such-and-such journal writing an article on how your hotel treats people with disabilities."
Swoosh! All doors opened to the group! Bella saved the day in her quick-witted plot to get past the hotel magistrate. Aside from the glee I felt at her being the savior of the day, I also applaud the embedded message: Disability rights are expected; don't tread on disability civil rights; disability access is what's happenin' in the Nineties.
This film has broad cross-class mass appeal, from the teenybopper to Joe Six Pack to the intellectual, and therefore has the power to impact the sensibilities of millions of viewers. I applaud Notting Hill for its contribution toward influencing positive attitudes toward people with disabilities.
After reading the synopsis, 'Notting Hill' sounds like just another
melodramatic Julia Roberts rom com. Fortunately, that ain't the case.
'Notting Hill' is fun, sweet, intelligent and
well, simply said, very
entertaining. London's Notting Hill does seem like a street you'd like
to walk on.
While the storyline itself is larger than life, the characters are real. There is no overt melodrama. We can see that Curtis put a lot of heart and some Brit wit humour into the writing. After meeting William, Anna, Spike, Max, Bella and Honey, we, as audience, really connect to these very interesting characters and care about them. The table discussion in Honey's birthday scene shows how all the characters connect. While a nervous Anna, is new to the group, we see that she eventually gets a hang of them and feels comfortable enough to talk about herself.
Hugh Grant isn't anything different from his other rom coms. Julia Roberts is brilliant. I never liked any of her romantic comedies (e.g. Pretty Woman, I Love Trouble, Something to Talk About etc) but 'notting Hill is an exception. She gives a subtle portrayal as hugely famous but very vulnerable Anna Scott and does full justice. This indeed is one of her finest performances. Rhys Ifans as Spike is standout! While Tim McInnerny, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville and Gina McKee (love her) are excellent. McKee's comedy is extremely subtle and her character is one of the most appealing. She underplays her part with tremendous grace and maturity.
All the actors share a very warm chemistry that just keeps adding on to its quality. The relationship and friendship between the characters is shown in a very sensitive way. While Spike and William are roommates who just seem to get along, we know that they like each other. Also William is about to cancel a date with the world's most famous actress to attend his sister's birthday party. The relationship between Max and Bella is beautiful.
Additional credit must be given to Coulter's amazing cinematography and the visuals. Watch the scene where Thacker is walking through the market and we see the weather change (indicating the passing time). There's a beautiful soundtrack that recites the moods of the scenes. And last but not least, thanks to Roger Mitchell for putting it all together to tell us this sweet entertaining story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'm not a fan of either Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts. So why did I watch
this film in the first place? I guess I'm always looking for the best in
everyone. What a surprise. I was not disappointed.
Hugh Grant's jittery, bumbling charm has never been more endearing. The vulnerability Grant infuses into his character is definitely his best quality, and it's perfectly understandable that he might decline the opportunity to date a megastar actress out of trepidation.
Julia Roberts' legions of fans will not be let down by her character. It's dead-on Julia. But those who are not among her fans will be slowly but surely won over by the honesty and directness of the character. I don't care what your testosterone quotient is, there won't be a dry eye in the house when she almost whispers, nervous smile masking the hurt, that she's "just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."
The story is by the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Bridget Jones' Diary, so it's a sure bet from the start. But Grant and Roberts take what might have been a slightly weak treatment and make it sparkle.
I get so sick of everyone who pooh-pooh's a happy ending because it's somehow so unbelievable that things ever work out right. Instead we demand tear jerker disappointment at every turn and end up with Kevin Costner drowning like a sacrificial lamb at the end of Message in a Bottle to satisfy our lust for tragedy. I love it when things work out well in my life, and sometimes I like to see films about things working out. If a bookstore owner in London can actually end up with the top actress in Hollywood, then maybe I'll get that promotion, or that beautiful new associate might actually talk to me. Is that so bad?
> After suffering a divorce, a marriage between a best friend and an ex-lover, not to mention living with a complete slob for a roommate, travel bookstore owner William (Hugh Grant) was just trying to live a peaceful existence in Notting Hill, England with his disastrous lovelife and a fledgling bookstore. When American film megastar Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) comes in to browse for books about Turkey, the two sense a mutual attraction and begin a delicate love affair that threatens both their complicated lives. The crux of "Notting Hill" is this : can two exact opposites in the complex world of publicity and disposable relationships stay together forever? Screenwriter Richard Curtis's ("Four Weddings And A Funeral") goal this time around seems to be a sharp satire of the Hollywood starlets and their psychotic relationships with the public and themselves, and the old wacky English humour we've come to expect from any film with Mr. Grant. It's a very odd mixture of the audience-pleasing easy comedy and something more sinister - possibly due to both lead's past public lives. He creates two compelling characters in Anna and Garrett. They both have very convincing motives for the courtship, it isn't just a roll in the hay and then the aftermath like most films. Director Roger Michell keeps the flow nice and the two leads make good on their promise for charm and beauty. I'm a little irritated that so many would consider this a big step for Julia Roberts in the acting department. She already gave a commanding performance in last year's "Stepmom". With "Hill", Roberts continues her impressive growth spurt into real adult acting and role choices. Her work with Grant here is the most easy going I've even seen her do(Maybe one too many close-ups of that smile though...). Hugh Grant does his stammering best to make William seem lovable. I'm not a fan of Mr. Grant, but I will easily concede that this is his best performance to date. Rhys Ifans is disgusting (a good thing) as Spike, William's flatmate. He brings some very much needed brevity to the proceedings. If anyone ever needs an actor to represent an English skuzzball, they should call this guy. If the charming "Notting Hill" suffers from anything it might be the "She's All That" syndrome. Whenever you get the relationship ball rolling, it seems in everyone of these movies we need a forced situation to break up the two leads, just so we can cheer when they reconcile. That's fine, no complaints. In "Hill", this syndrome is put to the extreme test. We follow this romance through, I believe, at least three breakups. That's too many for a two hour film. We never get sure footing on to why these two should be together and that is a frustrating element. Director Michell tries to hold onto the reins, but the climax of the film is forced and seriously uncharacteristic of the movie. "Notting Hill" has a lot to say about fame and the effects of it on a life. It never bothers to take a stand or really explain if Roberts's character embraces her superstardom or is oppressed by it. Screenwriter Curtis makes compelling arguments for both sides of the debate but strays away from truly looking deep within the fishbowl. When you think about it, William was a fan of Anna before meeting her, yet that subject seems too taboo for the film. What we get is just puppy love, no strings.
"Notting Hill" is an extremely charming film with so much love to offer. It's a concoction that's hard to resist. You'll come out of it with a warm fuzzy feeling in the tips of your toes. It's nice to have a film that just wants to please, I just wish they didn't lay such a heavy topic wet blanket over the proceedings. --------------- 8
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