Hugh Grant returns to his roots in small, eccentric British
comedy in the charming Notting Hill, which only qualifies as a
big-time blockbuster due to a jolt of real star power from Julia Roberts.
Grant plays an unsuccessful bookshop owner with a circle of equally
unsuccessful friends. Roberts is the movie star who goes from browsing in
Grant's shop to taking long walks with him through the romantic London
streets. Are they falling in love, or is each attracted to the mere
trappings of their respective lives?
Notting Hill was written by Richard Curtis, who wrote Four
Weddings and a Funeral, and this film has similarities in its tale of
seemingly unattainable love and the likable schlub who somehow attains it.
But director Roger Michell downplays the whimsy in favor of a slightly more
desperate edge--the story is mostly about Grant pining for Hollywood's
version of the ideal woman, who suddenly and surprisingly comes within his
The film is still as funny as you'd expect--and also as sentimental,
which means that it indulges the sappy and artificial more than it
should--but there are moments where it startles the audience with the harsh
reality of the celebrity lifestyle, from tabloid intrusiveness to the way
people alter their personalities when they meet someone famous. Credit
Roberts for making the emotions palpable: Playing a variation on her own
on- and off-screen persona, she keeps her character so guarded that her
moments of openness are like little gifts bestowed upon us. And when she
blows up at Grant in a tense morning-after scene, she comes off as such a
bitch that we wonder along with Grant whether she's worth the trouble.
Of course, we all know what happens in the movies after boy loses girl;
Notting Hill is no revelation as far as that's concerned. Nor is the
"celebrities are people too" theme exactly fresh; EdTV died with it
a few months ago. What distinguishes the film is its oft-forlorn,
last-day-of-summer-camp quality. It's bad enough that Grant gets smitten
with a woman who lives several time zones away. But when he can't walk a
block without seeing her picture plastered on the side of a bus...well,
that's heartache, man.