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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 MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

While their careers are far from flagging, neither Julia Roberts nor Hugh Grant have quite recaptured the heights of the projects that propelled them to stardom. This has been especially the case with Grant, whose last project, the 1996 medical thriller _Extreme_Measures_, found the actor acquitting himself surprisingly well in a serious role, but it offered little reminder of self-effacing British charms that broke him through in 1994's _Four_Weddings_and_a_Funeral_. Roberts, on the other hand, has had (to put it lightly) her fair share of successes since 1990's _Pretty_Woman_, but few of the hits she has had possessed the simple magic of that modern-day romance classic that made her career--even her role in 1997's entertaining smash _My_Best_Friend's_Wedding_ had her stretch somewhat, playing, to use the words of her character, "the bad guy" (albeit a charming one). Roberts has always been best at being, as in _Pretty_Woman_, a glowing presence--something she has never been content to do since.

_Notting_Hill_, from two of Grant's _Four_Weddings_ collaborators, writer Richard Curtis and producer Duncan Kenworthy (director Roger Michell is new to the mix), casts the two likable stars in their well-trodden element. As such, the film does not uncover any new talents that they might have buried within, but it gives audiences exactly what they want from them--and in a smartly written and wholly irresistible package.

Many stars have been accused of essentially playing themselves in film, but never has that been more blatantly the case with Roberts's role in _Notting_Hill_: that of Anna Scott, a world-famous movie star whose private life is often fodder for the tabloids. (Further blurring the Julia/Anna divide is the opening montage of red carpet arrival footage, most of it culled from actual news coverage of Roberts at gala events.) This may reek of shameless self-indulgence, but the movie star conceit allows Roberts to poke fun at her image and, more effectively, enables Curtis to deftly let off some pointed barbs at the Hollywood machine. One hilarious sequence perfectly captures the often ridiculous nature of a press junket (naturally, this section received the best response from the all-media audience); and in one single, simple line, Curtis takes a stinging jab at the writing-by-committee tactic so often used for so-called "blockbusters."

The main intent of _Notting_Hill_, however, is not satire but romance, and Curtis and Michell have crafted a truly enchanting one. The premise is pure fantasy: one day Anna walks into the travel book store of Notting Hill (a neighborhood in London) resident William Thacker (Grant, comfortably back in _Four_Weddings_ stammer mode), and in quick time this average joe finds himself striking a friendship with the glam starlet that eventually develops into something deeper--which, of course, leads to some problems with anonymity. As far-fetched as the story is, it is done with such style and grace--the latter especially the case with Roberts and Grant's effortless rapport--that there is no difficulty in suspending disbelief.

While Roberts and Grant make an immensely appealing center, the characters at the periphery provide memorable support. Emma Chambers, Hugh Bonneville, Tim McInnerny, and Gina McKee are all given their individual moments to shine as William's sister and close friends, respectively. Likely to generate the most talk, though (aside from a funny surprise cameo by a name star), is Rhys Ifans, a scene stealer William's disgusting slob of a flatmate, Spike.

If there is a misstep made in _Notting_Hill_, it is the ending. Admittedly a crowdpleaser, it's also so overdone as to be the only moment in the movie that is far less than convincing. But by that point, Roberts, Grant, and everyone and everything else will have so effortlessly endeared the audience that such a complaint is moot. That one moment may ring false, but what remains true throughout is the enrapturing spell this sparkling entertainment casts upon the audience.

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