Notting Hill

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Roger Michell

REVIEWED: 06-14-99

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 reach.

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.

--Noel Murray

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