Grant and Roberts have an odd chemistry together that works.
My dislike of Julia Roberts is fairly well known by those who know me, but I enjoy Notting Hill anyway. Perhaps this is because I don't really like the character she plays and so she plays it perfectly. This is also one of those rare romantic comedies that by the end of it, although they end up together (c'mon, that's not a spoiler), I'm convinced that their relationship won't last.
Hugh Grant plays William Thacker. The owner of a travel bookshop in the Notting Hill area of London. His life is changed one day when Anna Scott (Roberts), a huge movie star, walks into the shop. After he spills orange juice on her, they end up back at his place where they share a kiss. This leads to an on/off relationship as William tries to deal with dating a huge celebrity and the baggage that brings.
Much of the comedy is provided by the supporting cast. William's roommate Spike (the masturbating Welshman) provides the biggest laughs. His eccentric quirkiness makes the movie worth seeing on its own. Emma Chambers as William's sister is good also, but so are many of the bit parts. Dylan Moran has a cameo as a shoplifter in the bookshop that's worth a chuckle. Grant's funnies scene is when he gets trapped into interviewing the cast of Anna's latest movie as a representative for Horse and Hound magazine. Look for a young Mischa Barton in the scene.
Grant and Roberts have an odd chemistry together that works, but I never really believe that Anna is in love with William. And is William really in love with her or is he just overawed by her celebrity? Near the end of the movie William makes a speech about how his naive heart couldn't take being left by her again as he absolutely expects she would. I have to agree with him. Anna uses him and his apartment to hide from the press at one point. She has a boyfriend already and yet goes on a date with William. She dismisses him near the end of the movie to another actor and then explains that with the lamest of excuses. How long before William stops being awed by her fame and how long before she wants to return to the glamor and the spotlight? Although they marry and she's pregnant by the end of the movie, this is one relationship I just don't see lasting. Just to be clear, I don't see this as a weakness of the movie. It makes it more realistic and I like it.
There is one scene in the movie that has always been my favorite. At one point after Anna and William have had a fight, there is a passage of time scene that is incredibly well done. To the sounds of Al Green's "How do you mend a broken heart", William is shown walking through Portobello Road Market and as he walks the weather changes from Summer, to Fall, to Winter and finally to Spring. At the beginning of the scene you see a pregnant woman and Honey with a new boyfriend. Over the course of the walk you see Honey break up with her boyfriend and the scene ends with the pregnant woman now holding her baby. And the entire scene is done without one cut. It's just one long continuous take.
Like all great movies, this one contains memorable lines. Its most famous line is, of course, "I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her." but there are many others.
"I'm going to tell you a story that will make your balls shrink to the size of raisins."
"I knew a girl at school called Pandora. Never got to see her box, though."
"Surreal but nice"
"Happiness isn't happiness without a violin-playing goat."
Sure Grant could play this character in his sleep and we've seen him play it before. It works for him and it works for this part. As he might say about this movie, "Classic."
Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in the most famous scene from Notting Hill.
Like Scott I don’t think for a second that Anna and William will make it as a couple. Unlike Scott I think it hurts the movie. A more realistic, poignant ending would have been an improvement over the faux happy ending it has. The whole set-up is William’s fantasy and fantasies, as a rule, don’t last.
He could have gotten together with the girl he hit it off with earlier in the movie (her character just disappears) and the ending could have been them at one of Anna’s movies. The final shot could have been a close-up of William looking wistfully up at Anna on the big screen before turning to look at his girlfriend, as if saying the reality is better than the fantasy.
The 1990’s was the decade of Julia Roberts. She began it with Pretty Woman, which was a girl’s fantasy and ended the decade having come full circle with this movie, in which she provides the fantasy for a man. She really is just playing herself and, as Scott wrote, some of her motivations are suspect. I never bought her love for William.
The story peaks in the first half of the movie. My favorite part is where William brings Anna to his sister’s birthday party. It is a great scene full of humor and heart. We meet William’s family and friends and the dialogue is good. Each of them tells a sob story about how their life is the saddest.
What works best about the movie is the humor. It has many funny and/or memorable lines. Scott mentioned some of his favorites, here are several of mine…
William: (after the first break-up with Anna) “It's as if I've taken love heroin, and now I can't ever have it again.”
Honey: “William just turned down Anna Scott.”
Spike: “You daft prick.”
Anna Scott: (discussing body doubles with William, specifically Mel Gibson) “Actually Mel does his own ass work. Well why wouldn't he.”
(William and a blind date at dinner)
Keziah: “I'm a fruitarian.”
William: “And, um - what exactly is a fruitarian?”
Keziah: “We believe that fruits and vegetables have feeling so we think cooking is cruel. We only eat things that have actually fallen off a tree or bush - that are, in fact, dead already.”
I also love the t-shirts Spike wears. I especially liked the one that has hearts on it and reads, “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world”. When Spike turns around to go up the stairs the back says, “Fancy a fuck?”
As an ensemble comedy Notting Hill is hilarious. It has everything a romantic comedy needs except the single most essential ingredient; a central couple we can root for. This flaw is unfortunately too great for the talented cast and brilliant dialogue to overcome. Therefore Notting Hill is nearly a classic, but not quite.
Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant doing a sight gag in Notting Hill. Pun intended,
To me, a classic movie cannot be decided by any single person or website. Something only becomes classic when a new generation discovers and enjoys it. Thus proving it really was a true standard of excellence and not some trendy film of the moment.
Notting Hill has many classic elements and strengths that both my brothers pointed out. The charm of it's actors and the dialogue stand out greatly. Some of it's plot points are reminiscent to other classic films. The scene near the end when Anna meets the press is very much like the last scene from Roman Holiday, with Audrey Hepburn being interviewed by the press, including her secret boyfriend played by Gregory Peck.
Notting Hill runs over two hours. This is due to the fact that we meet all of William's friends and family. They are a likable lot but their presence often threatens to overshadow the love story. It allows us to see William from other angles and thus we understand him much better than we ever get to understand Anna. To be fair, we either needed to see more of her away from William or cut the parts with his friends.
Anna does not come across very well. She treats William very badly on a couple of occasions. She has a dick boyfriend, that Baldwin plays like a natural. Why would she be with him? He is nothing like William. We are meant to feel some sympathy for her when she makes a bid for the brownie and when she over hears the men in the restaurant discuss her. Sorry! I cannot muster any for her. Movie stars know exactly what they are getting into when they become famous. It is probably a motive for some of them. Sure they lose their privacy, and that has got to be a huge inconvenience, but they are justly financially rewarded to make it worth the trouble. If it were not then they would stop acting.
I have no clue if this fictional couple will make it or not. I believe they stand a chance if William can remain content being her doormat, putting up with her spoiled outbursts. "Boohoo the press took my picture and it is your fault!" A scene at the end shows the happy couple walking into a formal event with William accidentally stepping on Anna's train. Although she smiles about it as the press is watching, I bet she gave him hell later when they were alone.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1999)