Notting Hill (1999)
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"Surreal but nice.", both our fairy tale characters quip in turn, truthfully hinting at the qualities of the film.
Like all scripts by Curtis this works best considering his past as a sketch writer and each scene individually. Particularly, as the overall plot, serving as glue between these scenes, is complete nonsense without his usual touch of irony. Although the film largely serves as a complete reversal of The Portrait of a Lady, by the oft mentioned Henry James, this foundation isn't brought forward enough to invoke sympathy for the characters. As such, Hugh Grant essentially reenacts his hapless, fantastical character from Four Weddings & A Funeral, while Julia Roberts fills the gap between Pretty Woman and Closer.
Nevertheless, or perhaps exactly because of this, the casting is ingenuous and its hard to imagine the film a success without the prior works of our leads. And although Julia Roberts again hints at a promiscuous character, she has rarely been more stunning and perfectly embodies the ideal image of a movie star. Hugh Grant, on the other hand, seems at once perfectly offbeat and quirky, while having acquired enough confidence to chase this beautiful woman. So, throughout we're treated to entire scenes (often fittingly to the song, When You Say Nothing at All) in which the entire romance is made up by the audience. Because, in honesty, nothing happens to make us believe that their love is anything but superficial. Like in The Swineherd, and countless other stories, boys' general preoccupation with princesses prevail, as in turn do their fantasies of stable boys.
And in spite of this, we're tricked into believe that we're not witnessing simple lust, but true romance and that "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy..." is a line worthy of tears. Oh, the magic of cinema.
Without Curtis' deceptive talent for creating likeable, odd characters and fairytale-like universes the same story is the basic outline of most X-rated films. And though it's both confusing and surreal why this superstar would fall for a fan, scene-by-scene, it provides an enamoring outline for funny lines and actions, which in the end delivers a nice and charmingly, well-meaning film.
6/10 - On a final note, the camera work and horribly dated musical cues has largely provided the shape of every romantic comedy since, with its large sweeps and sugary pop songs. Maybe not so nice after all.
A little hokey at the start and end, Notting Hill does have, like so many other sweets disguised as romantic comedy films, a soft centre that you can sink your teeth into. The birthday party dinner scene is incredibly charming, as is Julia Roberts throughout. Not the best rom-com, but entertaining and uplifting.
As a fan of Richard Curtis' romcoms, I've seen Notting Hill more than once, but can't help being charmed by it every time, and this despite my natural aversion to pretty people decrying their unluckiness in love, which is tenfold in the case of Julia Roberts' mega movie star. But it's still an interesting point of view, brought to life by someone who's been through it, and contrasted by Hugh Grant's family and friends who are nominally ordinary people, but distinct and memorable characters all. Well scripted, well shot and well acted, and above all, funny!
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In 3 official lists
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This movie ranks #216 in Film Comedy
This movie ranks #304 in All-Time Worldwide Box office
This movie ranks #664 in TimeOut's 1000 Films to Change Your Life