By Rob Blackwelder
I think I might have really enjoyed "Notting Hill" -- an unlikely,light and lively romance between a Hollywood superstar (Julia Roberts)and a the owner of a tucked-away London book shop (Hugh Grant) -- but forone huge obstacle that I just couldn't get past:
Every time it starts to get really good, every time itreaches a romantic or emotional high, the soundtrack chimes in and ruinsthe scene with invariably intrusively and often downright awful songs,many of which sound like the producers dug up John Denver and forced anacoustic guitar into his decaying hands.
Yes, that's not a pretty picture. Sorry if I brought upyour lunch with that analogy. But the music really ruined this movie forme, and I just wanted to drive the point home.
Save that, "Notting Hill" is a smart, lithesomeand well-acted charmer that ranks very high on the romantic comedy scale(about 2/3 of a "Four Weddings and a Funeral"), in spite of somerather transparent scripting.
Our leads, both in roles that simply couldn't be playedby anyone else, meet when movie star Anna Scott (Roberts) happens intoa quiet travel book store owned by foppy nobody William Thacker (Grant)while on a break between making bad, big-budget blockbusters -- and immediatelythere's a spark of unexpected romantic chemistry.
This well-balanced bounty of one-liners and sincere romanticdiscourse from the pen of writer-producer Richard Curtis (who was responsiblefor "Four Weddings") has many of the usual trappings of greatromantic comedy, but the angle is fresh and fantasy-fulfilling. What averageJoe or Jane wouldn't want to have a gorgeous movie fall in love with them?It's a movie that will set hearts aflutter, but it also gets a lot of long,hard laughs, often at Hollywood's expense.
Grant trades once again on his irresistibly clumsy, self-deprecatingcharm, but Roberts not only gets another great role in the genre whereshe's done her best work, she also gets to mock the Event Film and herown celebrity by playing Anna as an overpaid, mediocre and not entirelystable actress, who recognizes her shortcomings but hopes to someday starin something better than sci-fi extravaganzas and submarine thrillers inwhich she has to "save the world in 20 minutes."
Director Robert Michell ("Persuasion") grounds"Notting Hill" with the bumpy realities of this unlikely relationship,and chooses visually creative ways to depict Grant's loneliness when Robertswalks away from their affair at one point in the film.
He brings forth the hearts of his characters so well thatit feels true to life from each point of view. The average movie goer getsto feel what it's like to be Julia Roberts, even as she makes fun of thestaples of a movie star's public life -- press junkets, no-nudity clausesand stunt bottoms, pursuant paparazzi and high-profile boyfriends (AlecBaldwin has a funny, uncredited cameo as her tempestuous big star beauwho ads another obstacle to the romance).
But the film also falls back on some overly obvious plotadvancement at times. One of the secondary characters is in a wheelchair,which clearly will come into play at some point or Curtis wouldn't havebothered to include it. Likewise, it's a foredrawn conclusion that William'smangy, unhinged roommate (Rhys Ifans) will end up romancing his equallyoddball sister (Emma Chambers). It's so obvious, in fact, that the directordoesn't even bother to develop the storyline. He just tosses in a marriageproposal even though the characters hardly know each other.
That sort of thing is largely forgivable, though, especiallyin the face of such pitch-perfect and very comical performances by Roberts,Grant and his ensemble of friends.
If only it weren't for the music!
If you think I'm petty for not being able to overlook thissingle element in an otherwise good movie, you may be right. Perhaps Ishouldn't make such a big deal of it. But that single element so overridesany of my pleasant memories of "Notting Hill" that writing thisrather unwieldy review took me twice as long as usual because I had tostruggle to recall the parts I liked. What more can I say?
Run time: 124 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th May 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $363.9M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Bookshop Productions, Notting Hill Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 81 Rotten: 17
IMDB: 7.0 / 10
Director: Roger Michell
Starring: Julia Roberts as Anna Scott, Hugh Grant as William Thacker, Gina McKee as Bella, Tim McInnerny as Max, Rhys Ifans as Spike, Emma Chambers as Honey, Hugh Bonneville as Bernie, Richard McCabe as Tony, James Dreyfus as Martin, Dylan Moran as Rufus the Thief, Roger Frost as Annoying Customer, Henry Goodman as Ritz Concierge, Julian Rhind-Tutt as 'Time Out' Journalist, Lorelei King as Anna's Publicist, Alec Baldwin as Jeff King, John Shrapnel as PR Chief
Also starring: Tim McInnery
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