Dir. Roger Michell, UK/US, 1999, 124 mins
Cast: Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans, Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville, Gina McKee, Richard McCabe
Review by Jean Lynch
From the pen of the by then most popular writer in Britain (indeed the only Billion dollar writer from these shores), Richard Curtis, and casting lovable fop Hugh Grant in the lead role, expectations were high for Notting Hill to be a sort of sequel to the beloved Four Weddings and a Funeral. Well, it wasn’t exactly that, but it did feature the same kind of people who inhabited that terribly English world and, again, it had an American actress as its star. This time round, Curtis’ stock had risen such that we were treated to a smiling Julia Roberts rather than a grimacing and cold Andie McDowell. And good job too, for Notting Hill tells the tale of the world’s most successful actress, Anna Scott (Roberts) bumping into a relatively wealthy but otherwise very ordinary bookshop owner, Will (Grant). Naturally, her being so rich and famous and in Britain, Notting Hill would be the obvious place she’d be.
Of course, Will and Anna fall in love but, she is the most famous woman in the world after all, and the constant stream of paparazzi at the door, not to mention Will’s starstruck family and friends, does tend to put the dampers on the relationship. It comes to something when in order to see her Will has to attend a press junket and pretend to be a writer from Horse and Hound.
However, Anna is ‘just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking her to love him’ (a line almost as bad as ‘is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed’) despite the fact that she makes $15m a movie, as she tells Will’s incredulous friend Bernie (Bonneville). Anna is beginning to feel jaded by the fact that she’s public property, and Will is a chance of some normality. One also suspects that he’s very different from the fawning minions and regimented pr people who dominate her life.
Roberts does indeed come across as a little girl lost, and maybe it is an accurate portrayal of what superstars are really like behind the dark glasses… and yet; the performance doesn’t quite ring true somehow. Is she really so disenchanted with her life? Is she so bemused, like a little lost kitten, in all this celebrity? And doesn’t the star charisma break through at some point? It’s just so damn hard to believe that this almost shy and quite ordinary woman is the world’s number one sweetheart.
Having said that, the film is genuinely sweet and Grant is so perfect for these types of roles and does make it believable that someone of Anna Scott’s status would fall for lowly little him. It’s another semi-perfect little world, peopled with happy people with everyday concerns, not least that they shouldn’t eat vegetables because it’s tantamount to murder, and who all care about each other. It’s nice. Vicar of Dibley’s Emma Chambers delightfully plays to type as ‘Anna’s new best friend’ Honey, and Rhys Ifans has the greatest lines and wisest bits of advice as the ‘masturbating Welshman’ Spike, Will’s housemate.
Anna’s arrival initially causes a stir in Notting Hill, it’s hitherto easy flow of life depicted so succinctly in the opening sequence as we move through the seasons as we wander through its streets, but one suspects it’s a storm in a teacup and eventually life here will quickly absorb Anna and Will to its fold. It’s as unlikely as hell, but Richard Curtis does have an uncanny knack of making the unbelievable seen believable, and he gives us such perfectly-timed and achingly funny-but-true lines to boot.
Suspend your disbelief and wallow in a modern-day fairytale, in which a male Cinderella becomes a prince.
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