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