[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B001DTKXVI][/pullquote] The dream team of lead Hugh Grant and writer Richard Curtis reunite following the staggering success of Four Weddings and Funeral with the slightly more tempered, although equally high concept Notting Hill. Sharing more than a few similarities with their previous collaboration, he again see a foppish Brit fall for a glamorous American, only this time we get the likable Julia Roberts instead of the wooden and stand-offish Andie MacDowell.
It’s the oldest story in the book, shy travel book shop owner William (Grant) accidently runs into Hollywood megastar Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) twice in a day in Notting Hill. After some flirting and a kiss, William finds himself whipped up into a semi-romance that stops more than it starts. Eventually the budding lovers do get together, but the interference of the British tabloids and a sleazy boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) threaten to derail everything.
As you would expect for a Richard Curtis penned script, it bubbles with wit and charm, while never shying away from his own patented over-sentimentalised take on British life. William and his friends are self-described desperate under-achievers, with the quirkiness set to 10 and the lovability to match. Standouts are his best friend Max (Tim McInnerny), who is exactly the kind of best friend you want, smart, funny, warm and never afraid to tell you the brutal, honest truth. Alongside him is William’s flatmate Spike (Rhys Ifans), whose flat refusal to exist in the same soul-crushing universe as everyone else is as endearing as it would be frustrating.
All of William’s friends though provide the kind of grounding that Hollywood A-list star Anna so lacks in her everyday life. The scene where she first meets them all and suddenly finds acceptance for reasons other than her fame is beautiful and heart-warming in every respect.
As good as the supporting cast are hwoever, the strength of Notting Hill relies on its lead pair and in Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, it bridges the chemistry gap so missing in its immediate precursor Four Weddings. Grant made a living of playing the floppy-haired British heartthrob in the 1990s and here he is on his best self-deprecating best, with just enough wit and intelligence to overcome his almost crippling politeness. Opposite him is Julia Roberts, in the fragile yet fiery role of what seems like herself. The levels of honesty in her performance are a little startling, such as the scene where she explains some of the truths about Hollywood and the surgery to keep her looking attractive (she points to her nose and chin). The really memorable line from Roberts though comes when she’s describing her future prospects and in a completely truthful and disarming scene she tells the audience that And, one day not long from now, my looks will go, they will discover I can’t act and I will become some sad middle-aged woman who looks a bit like someone who was famous for a while. A look at the less-than-prolific film-making of both her and Grant suggest that she was well aware of what was coming.
It still struggles with the well-worn formula that afflicts so many romantic comedies, but it at least delays the pleasures of the big finale until the last possible moment while peppering the events with some fantastic dialogue and supporting cast.