(director: Roger Michell; screenwriter: Richard Curtis; cinematographer: Michael Coulter; editor: Nick Moore; cast: Julia Roberts (Anna Scott), Hugh Grant (William Thacker), Rhys Ifans (Spike), Gina McKee (Bella), Tim McInnerny (Max), Hugh Bonneville (Bernie), James Dreyfus (Martin), Emma Chambers (Honey, Thacker’s Sister); Runtime: 123; Universal; 1999-UK)
“The same old romantic comedy formula story that has become a Hollywood trademark is revived here.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The same old romantic comedy formula story that has become a Hollywood trademark is revived here, only this time its formula involves ‘Beverly Hills conveniently meeting Notting Hill.’ This film asks the question, “Can the most famous film star in the world fall for the man on the street?” Give me a break, who in their right mind is seriously asking that question! The answer lies in the shekels found in the box office. This trite story line of the romance between opposites and the cute obstacles set before them, seems to draw its fateful audience ever since Hollywood was a hill that film moguls erected a lettered neon sign to look down upon the city of ‘Lost Angels.’
Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is a world-famous actress, who unexpectedly meets the proprietor of asmall, unprofitable travel bookshop, William Thacker (Grant), and both are bitten by the love bug. She is the sure-fire American superstar of films, he is the bumbling but sincere English clerk. What the film is ‘banking’ on, is the star personalities will continue to do their trick and milk their charms for mucho profit. Roberts will fill the screen with her innocent and bountiful smile and Grant will exploit that hangdog stereotype look he has cornered the market on. They ape playing themselves as parodies, though who knows what they are really like! What is added to this often tried and tested screen formula, is PG-13 safe humor and a mild story where love blossoms in the way Hollywood wills it to. Think of any Cary Grant screwball comedy vehicle and you will know that this film is not on the same level of those films, no matter how it tries to capture that spirit.
Screenwriter Richard Curtis’ dull workmanlike script seems to have the knack in getting to Hugh Grant’s screen presence, the one that brings the paying audience in, as he previously did for him in “Four Weddings And A Funeral.” Roger Michell’s direction is predictable and lackluster and the film itself is simply old stuff served again, dried out except for those who still find these superficial stars charming enough to think that this plot is viable again in their hands. There is no accounting for taste and who has taste, and no one’s taste is better than your own; so if you like the stars then you will probably like the film no matter what.
When superstar Anna comes into humble William’s bookstore and gets a book on Turkey, you can guess the direction the rest of the film will travel to. They will meet for real when he accidentally spills orange juice on her on Portobello Road and offers to let her clean up in his nearby flat. There are no surprises here, unless you consider it a surprise that she tongue-kisses William.
The film brings out the usual British eccentrics, who are cast as either William’s friends or as his sister Honey’s friends. They pop up all through the story to give the film its kooky British flavor. Seemingly, their main purpose in life is to make sure that William is a happy camper. Reality is blended so finely into the story that it never gets in the way of the fantasy romantic comedy happenings. It does what Hollywood always does, give hope to those in the audience that fantasies can come true. You can bet your fairy tale book collection that after Hugh Grant will go through all the obligatory obstacle courses required in the formula story, he will prevail and get Julia Roberts.
The only one in the film who had any fun in him was Grant’s slob Welsh flatmate, Spike (Rhys). He’s the one who told the press where Julia Roberts spent the night while she was hiding from them. He spreads his goofiness around like it was manna from heaven, until even his dressed-down comic efforts feel forced. But, without his presence, even if his role was also a stereotype one, this asinine comedy-romance would have been even more unbearable than it was.
This film was pure and unadulterated balderdash…opium for the masses to get hooked on when they can’t face reality. “Notting Hill” takes you to a low point on the movie making hill, where you can step on horseshit and curse out loud or pretend that it is not horseshit or be a man about it and say you fell into it. This is the kind of film Hollywood makes best…it’s so easy to make and the romance is so painless. It ends fittingly in a cliché, as Roberts recites her love ode to Grant: “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him to love her.” … Give me a bloody break…!
REVIEWED ON 11/29/2000 GRADE: C-