'Notting Hill' an old-fashioned romance|
By Rob Solomon
Hates writers block
May 28, 1999
In the neighborhood of Notting Hill in London, people of varying ethnicity mingle together, seemingly oblivious of their own differences. It is in this place that two people who are as different as night and day are allowed to meet, fall in love, break up, rinse cycle and repeat. In this movie, the premise is simple: what if a very famous movie star fell in love with a normal guy?
Anna Scott, played by Julia Roberts, is introduced to us not as a person, but as a smiling face in a sea of flashing bulbs, down a hundred different walkways. Compare this to Hugh Grant's William Thacker: a sad-sack bookshop owner who has had very few loves and a very small life. An encounter in the bookshop leads to a collision in the street, where Anna kisses William spontaneously, almost as a thank you for William's decidedly muddled attempts to treat her as a normal person.
William quickly learns the downsides to Anna's celebrity. When he comes to her hotel, presumably for tea and conversation, he is greeted with a press junket for her latest film. Later when she goes to William's apartment to escape the press, the next morning the paparazzi are waiting outside to snap a picture of Anna's latest lover. William's friends and relatives go ga-ga over seeing a real-life movie star in their home. And so on.
As Anna comes and goes, there is a gaggle of William's friends who serve to advise him during his highs and lows. They serve the same purpose as Grant's friends in Four Weddings and a Funeral. This is no surprise, since the same writer wrote them both. While similarities between the two abound, Notting Hill manages to surpass its lauded predecessor, through the aid of not only a more believable group of friends (played by a smattering of Britain's finest television actors) but also by the presence of Julia Roberts. She finds unexpected depths in her portrayal of a self-protective movie star who simply wants to lead a normal life. It is probably her finest performance, which is matched in turn by Grant, who manages to escape the annoyance he carried in his previous films. Together they create what some people might call movie magic.
Ultimately, the issue of Anna's celebrity is just a device to keep them apart. That's the job of romantic comedies, to torture us with the possibility that the two leads might not get together at the end by keeping them apart as long as possible. At the heart of this film, despite their differences, there is a simple love between these two people that transcends the issue of class, royalty or whatever you might call it. It's what movies of this type are all about, as cliched as that may sound. Both want to love someone, but the same time don't want to be hurt. In the end, when all of the petty issues are laid aside, Anna proclaims, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." William fumbles for the right words. And we hold our breath.