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Notting Hill

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Notting Hill

Starring: Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts
Director: Roger Michell
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 123 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Hugh Bonneville, Gina McKee, Tim McInnerny, Emma Chambers, Rhys Ifans, Alec Baldwin, Mischa Barton

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

You read in People magazine that Gwyneth Paltrow is about to tie the knot with Brad Pitt. She denies all. The Daily News reports that the nuptials will take place shortly. No comment from the two parties. Finally even the NY Times covers the story: the wedding is off. Months pass. Brad Pitt is about to marry his new squeeze, Jennifer Aniston. Denials. We lose interest and turn to see what's happening with Liz Taylor's love life.

All of this activity, however interesting to some, is so remote from the lives of us ordinary folks that these Hollywood personalities seem to be part of a fairy story: material that today's most popular author, Shakespeare, could use for a sequel to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But how about this for a romantic fable? A top actress is no longer a remote personality guarded by pit-bull-style bouncers but a woman who bounces right into your life to start an affair with...YOU! This actually happens. Well, anyway, it happens on the big screen as world-renowed entertainer, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), comes into the life of failed bookstore owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant). Is this situation of people from different worlds getting together for a romantic interlude believable? It is. Sometimes celebrities want nothing more than a private life away from the press, a normal routine to come home to after a trying day of filming. Though "Notting Hill" has credibility, the movie unfortunately uses stock, comedic situations (particularly the surprise that comes over people's faces when they see megastar Anna Scott in the intimate company of just plain Will), and for all of its varied episodes, is not only repetitive but plain unfunny. Anna Scott is shown photographed from every angle with a silly smile pasted on her face, but Richard Curtis's script rarely gives her anything of interest to say. Instead the clever repartee comes exclusively from Will's pals, making one almost think (mistkenly, I believe) that director Roger Michell is trying to make yet another satire on the emptiness of celebrity.

The audience can see the stretches of banality coming from the very beginning as William Thacker, owner of a failing book store, checks his security video and confronts a nerdy customer he spots filing a large travel book into his trousers. Shortly thereafter he has a quick dialogue with another visitor to his shop who, told that the store sells exclusively travel tomes, wonders whether Will carries the latest Grisham thriller or Winnie the Pooh. When world- famous screen star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) enters the shop, impetuously kissing the befuddled proprietor before leaving, the story brings them soon together again by a technique that Roger Ebert would call a "meet cute"--he spills a container of orange juice all over the actress's blouse, leading her to go to his apartment to change clothes.

We're taken through several incidents involving men and women whose faces drop when they see Will together with this star, including one involving scene as Will and Anna enjoy their first date at the bookseller's sister's home--atwhich time each member of the family takes a turn giving his or her hard luck story. But the picture's truly absorbing interlude, the one to which critics in the audience will relate to particularly, pokes fun at the entire process of interviewing actors. Will, invited by Anna to her hotel and expecting an evening of private conversation, instead finds himself plunged into a press conference in which he must suddenly pretend to be a writer for a magazine. Impulsively citing "Horse and Hound" to satisfy Anna's agent, he then must satisfy the vigilant representative by conjuring such absurd questions as "Do you expect to use horses in your next movie? Hounds? After all my readers are as fond of hounds as of horses."

As Will's wheelchair-bound sister Sally says at one point, "There's no rhyme or reason in life." Some of us get lucky, others have disastrous accidents. So love is. Who can explain what fairy-dust makes people fall in love at first sight? Julia Roberts does her best with what she has, but given the paucity of her lines, she comes across playing a performer who does little more than smile for the cameras and look fairly good in a space suit for her specialty sci-fi movies. Hugh Grant acquits himself well, restraining his signature blinking until the final moments of bafflement. But "Notting Hill" cannot make the grade either as satirical material or as sentimental comedy despite the efforts of such quirky, off-the-wall characters as Will's Welch roommate Spike (Rhys Ifans)--who becomes tiresome as a one-joke supporting actor wallowing in vulgarity. The publicity notes say that "Notting is the complete opposite of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" in that it reflect the day-to-day details of a love affair. Too often the scripter Curtis and director Michell try to force humor into what--despite Anna's alleged fame--looks like a commonplace relationship between two vulnerable people.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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