Notting Hill (1999)

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Richard McCabe, Rhys Ifans
The life of a simple bookshop owner changes when he meets the most famous film star in the world.
Charming performances provide romance aplenty.
  • Universal Pictures Company:
  • PG-13 Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 28 May 1999 Released:
  • 09 Nov 1999 DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

An enchanting, lovely, and humorously lively viewing experience.10/10

Visually lovely, "Notting Hill" becomes an enchanting fairy tale.....a magical and endearing love story, from the opening credits to an afternoon of quiet sharing in a London park. Being a romantic at heart, I was emotionally drawn to this well produced and entertaining motion picture, enticing me to view it a number of times more.

Some friends have indicated that the "plot" is boring and in 2 hours and 4 minutes takes too long to come to an expected conclusion. But the lyrical chemistry between William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) give intimate glimpses into the human heart and spirit. As in Mary Poppins when Burt jumps into the chalk sidewalk drawing, I longed to join this tapestry of two people falling in love, among caring friends and relatives. To longingly look into Anna's eyes and to see a reflection of your very own soul of hope and humanity may seem less than exciting to some people.....too involved in their fast paced, action world and who fail to see the beauty of life around them....to smell the roses.

Watching the inflections of Julia Robert's face became a mesmerizing cinema experience. And Hugh Grant's thoughtful and honest, yet quirky presence gave hope to what could be possible. Then wrap all this with a humorous, loving and insightful group of friends and family......WOW!

After watching "Notting Hill" with my wife and giving her a big hug, I saw that she was just a girl, standing in front of a boy, wanting to be loved!

What greater joy of meaning can be given by a film?

"Teach me the Magic of Wonder, Give me the Spirit to Fly" - John Denver
Sweet Film10/10

Notting Hill proves one thing -- jokes lie in the oddest places. This film is an excellent vehicle for Julia Roberts to put her own life as an actress under the microscope. While Roberts' "Anna Scott" character isn't an autobiographical figure, the Scott character allows for some biting satire at the life of Roberts herself. Need I mention some excellent one liners in the film like the sister of Hugh Grant... "I feel like we are sisters", an excellent throw-back to "My Best Friend's Wedding"... or my favourite, a discussion about nude body doubles just before a nude Julia Roberts (or a Julia Roberts body double) crosses the screen.

Apart from the small bit of satire, Grant's character plays on the emotions of every guy who has ever unexplainably fell in to, threw orange juice-on, lost out on, and fell back in to love. Roberts character can only help us understand how such a relationship as the one her and Grant share in the movie, could be "Surreal, but nice."

A sweet film surely not to be missed!
Warm and Human British Comedy7/10
Notting Hill is a district of west London that was built as a fashionable Victorian suburb, became very run down during the mid twentieth century and is now once again fashionable, but which retains a distinctly cosmopolitan atmosphere, with London's biggest street market and many small specialist shops. (My wife and I sometimes go there to shop for bargains). The hero of the film, William Thacker, is the owner of one of these shops, a travel bookshop. The film concerns the romance which develops between William and a young woman named Anna Scott whom he meets when she comes into his shop.

As another reviewer has pointed out, 'Notting Hill' is based around a theme, love between people of unequal social standing, which has provided literature with some of its greatest works, both comic and serious, dating back at least to the tale of King Cophetua and the beggar-maid. Although many of these stories tell of a poor but honest lad who aspires to the hand of a princess or titled lady, Anna is not part of the Royal Family or the British aristocracy. She rather belongs to an even more exclusive elite, the Hollywood starocracy. She is a hugely popular film star who earns at least $15,000,000 per film, and pops into William's shop during a brief stay in London to publicise her latest movie.

Although Anna is played by a real-life Hollywood superstar, Julia Roberts, the film is very typically British. William is similar to an number of other Hugh Grant characters, being a shy, diffident middle-class Englishman, probably public-school and university educated. (Despite this background, he is not particularly wealthy following a divorce from his first wife and is forced to share his lodgings with an eccentric Welsh flatmate, Spike). The humour of the film, particularly the dinner-party banter between William and his friends, is mostly of the typically ironic, self-deprecating variety popular in Britain, especially in middle-class circles. Rhys Ifans's Spike, by contrast, typifies another strand of British humour, the eccentric zaniness found in the likes of 'Monty Python'. Spike's strong provincial accent suggests a more working-class background; this possibly accounts for the teasing that he has to put up with from the other characters, although he takes it all in good part.

William may be diffident, self-deprecating and unsuccessful, but he is probably the stronger of the two main characters. Anna is beautiful and successful, but underneath it all she is insecure, worried about losing her fame and fortune and about her inability to form lasting relationships with men. Early on in the film she has another boyfriend, Jeff, but it is clear that he is only the latest in a long string of unsatisfactory romances which have left her emotionally (and in some cases physically) bruised. The scene where Anna says to William 'I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her' is the one where we see her at her most vulnerable. Although both characters are in their late twenties or thirties, it is noteworthy that Anna refers to 'girl and boy' rather than 'woman and man'. Anna's vulnerability also comes through in her reaction in the scene where hordes of paparazzi appear on William's doorstep; William tries to play down the incident, and Spike finds it hugely amusing, but Anna is horrified. (The film was made shortly after the death of Princess Diana; this scene possibly reflects British disgust with the antics of the paparazzi, who were regarded as being partly to blame for the Princess's death). Like others, I found myself wondering how much Anna's personality reflects Julia Roberts's own; she too has had a number of unhappy relationships.

Important roles are also played by Tim McInnerny and Gina McKee as William's best friend Max and his disabled wife Bella; the love of this ordinary couple for each other provides a more realistic, down-to-earth counterpart to the fairy-tale romance of William and Anna, helping to anchor the film more firmly in reality. The main charm, however, lies in the relationship of the two main characters, as Anna comes to realise that the seemingly ordinary William has a kindness and decency which count for more than the monstrous egos of Jeff and his like. Like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', which was also written by Richard Curtis and starred Hugh Grant, 'Notting Hill' is one of the warmest and most human British films of the nineties. 7/10
Very Fine Romantic Comedy8/10
Not usually impressed with Romantic Comedies, i found this one strangely compelling. It really was a nice movie, littered with great characters, especially Spike played by Rhys Ifans (Hilarious).

The story demonstrates to the extreme that love can occur between the most unlikely of people, and the humorous portrayal of this, is both touching and realistic. And i mean realistically created, not necessarily true realism.

Worthy of your attention, this well written romantic comedy is a must for fans of the genre and is a good gamble if your not.

8/10
Sparkling romance at a deliberate British pace10/10
It may be a paradox to say that a film can sparkle slowly, yet that's the only way I can describe this charming romantic comedy. The star(dom)-crossed lovers don't know that they are Meant For Each Other ... yes, this is the standard RomCom setup. But the -way- they don't know? That is put across in a most British and deliberate pace and setting. And it makes the ending that we all know is coming gather color and charm.

"Notting Hill" takes over a third of its running time to show William (Hugh Grant) as he is immersed in his daily life, wanting to be supportive of his friends, yet searching for his own inner life. The five closest friends all show something he lacks: "happy" conformity, a loving marriage transcending obstacles, a sister who takes bold risks for finding love, and a roommate that sees through pretense and says so (and, yes, is delightfully vulgar).

That very British character-in-a-wry-setting pattern borrows from "Four Weddings and a Funeral," but the only friends there that I could consistently believe -mattered- to Grant's character were the gay couple, one comic, the other showing profound emotion. Here, all of the lead character's circle deeply cares about him, as he does about them. This makes all the difference.

Where it matters most is in giving him support when the American film beauty (Julia Roberts) comes into his life, then out, then in, then ... and all in ways that are believable for such dissimilar lovers. The romantic turns are more plausible because Grant's character has such support and a place for sharing his emotional roller-coaster ride. He isn't crushed by the down moments, but picks up his individuality and moves on. And his friends tell him, sometimes with only searching looks, just when he's picked up -too much- of being on his own. (Okay, the moment towards the end when Spike puts his exasperation into three pointed, even vulgar, words is a refreshing change. Sometimes, when a friend lets loose with the pithy truth, it hits the needed spot.)

All this backstory, character richness, and pointed use of the "right" words are British qualities that we don't get with the standard American RomCom setup.

Gina McKee's turn here as Grant's wheelchair-bound female friend is of someone with deeply felt individuality and unique perceptiveness, including her own tender perspective on loves past and present - especially her husband. It's a glimpse into a woman with distinctive qualities that -she- has chosen. This makes her both appealing to all her friends, and forceful by quiet understatement. She also ends up being much funnier, when you've rewound the tape and end up thinking about the story. (Listen for her spoken turn on "standing up." No, it's not a cheap play on her limitations. Not in context. And that's subtle comic acting.)

Richard Curtis's inventive screenplay is one of the best in years, and would reward a look in book form as well. He takes this backdrop of supportive friends, puts in the sparkle of Roberts invading and shaking up their world, and creates a skein of personal truths and imposed celebrity nonsense.

Grant and Roberts are both passionate and bemused observers of the absurdities of fame that end up surrounding them, but they act this out in comic byplay and inventive responses. This isn't an American breakneck-pace (or "screwball") comedy, and their subtle discovery of each other's -minds- and substance wouldn't work in such a setting.

Roberts has both the easy familiarity with and the hair-trigger of frustration from fame, both coming out to undermine her when she least expects it. But she shows that she can grow and learn from her mistakes. (Unlike her well-acted but overexplained realization at the end of "Runaway Bride.") She even has one scene -sans- makeup that is a genuine romantic turning point. I don't see many other actresses being willing to try that.

Grant shows an astonishing inner strength and self-awareness, not being willing to hide how -he- sees reality. (He did the same realistic turn in "Four Weddings," but didn't try nearly as effectively to figure himself out.)

The photography and settings show off London beautifully, and the story's interior scenes make highly imaginative use of a narrow, stacked-up Notting Hill mini-townhouse.

I do feel the director fails to take up some opportunities to build on the comic or dramatic moments in the screenplay. He coasts on the words. They're excellent words, but they need a twist at times.

My only take-off-a-point[*] quibble is with the music. It's mostly popular tunes that underscore the action. One of these is luminous, and frames the story perfectly - Elvis Costello's cover of "She." Others, though, use their lyrics to overstress plot points. Some are performed too high in volume, sometimes lapping against dialogue.

(The two original themes by Trevor Jones are beautiful, lushly written, and quite fitting to the main characters. We should have had more of his work, but they're less than a fourth of the film's music.)

The British often put more creativity below the narrative surface and into the setting than Americans do, and often get beyond formula. To discover this in a film is joyous. You'll feel this when you find yourself compelled to see this deeply felt, yet very funny, film twice, thrice, or more. For me, it's still delightful after nine months and nine viewings.

[* Edited on 21 April 2011: After another decade and another ten viewings, this love story has only become more resonant and beautiful. The pop-song choices feel notably less obtrusive. The acting of both Roberts and Grant has evinced more depth. And I see no reason to not give it a full 10 rating.]