Notting Hill (1999)
Main cast: Julia Roberts (Anna Scott), Hugh Grant (William Thacker), Richard McCabe (Tony), and Rhys Ifans (Spike)
Director: Roger Michell
I don't really like Four Weddings and A Funeral. Oh dear, have I committed MovieLand blasphemy? I tried to, I did. Good thing is, I liked Notting Hill better. The movie makers have adhered to the successful FWAAF formula well. There was Hugh Grant again, and the eccentric and funny best friend. A handicapped character, this time a dear woman in wheelchair. And the dialogue sizzled. The repartees were witty and utterly, delicious wicked at times, making me chuckle and laugh out loud. Spike, William's flatmate, got the best lines. The scene where he tried on different T shirts with rude greetings and asked William's opinion on them (he was readying for a big date with a woman he had the hots for) - now that was a classic moment! If you're watching NH to be entertained, you're in for a marvelous time.
As usual, NH, like its unofficial prequel, had an Englishman charming an American woman with his genteelity. This time the lucky woman was Anna Scott, an actress so popular and award-winner material (despite acting in some dodgy-looking sci-fi movies) that everyone she met in Notting Hill district had his or her jaws wide open the moment they met her. Even William. He offered her a free book along with her purchases, spilled coffee on her dress, and took her to a gathering of his family and friends. It is easy to see why Anna fell for William at first. The first dinner scene was charming, and telling too, as the characters decided to play a game to determine who would get the last helping of a dish. They would swap true sad life stories and the most pathetic would be the winner. Anna told hers, a stock story of how her career isolated her to loneliness, et cetera. Instead of sympathizing, the other people at the dinner table burst out laughing. "Tough luck. Good attempt, but you're not fooling us." This was either blind idol-worship or a refreshing inability to be awed by the presence of a glamorous movie star. Anna was right to be intrigued. Here was a gentle, polite gentleman with wonderful friends and family, of course she would want to know them better.
William's case was more difficult. Anna was a cold, sometimes surly, and always snappy woman. The only reason for his attraction was either because she was his favorite glamorous movie star, or that he liked dour people. The latter couldn't be the case as he was always surrounded by folks who remained laughing in the face of adversity. Throughout the movie, I never detected any significant evolution of his initial attraction to Anna. Was he attracted to Anna the Movie Star or Anna the Person? When Anna declared to him in a later scene, "I'm also a woman offering her heart to the man she loves," I believed her utterly. But how did William feel? I never got a clear impression. Partly because William never stopped apologizing in Anna's presence. He acted more like a servile fan than a lover most of the time. Let me say if the man I just spent the night with keep apologizing for even breathing the morning after, out, out, OUT!
Hugh Grant is a good actor. I have seen him work magic in his earlier movies, before the Hollywood bug bit him. Now it is sad to see this fine actor reduced to playing a stereotype of himself: a bumbling, constantly apologizing, and almost feminine Englishman. Hugh, bring back that suave character in you. Stop apologizing over everything in your life.
Where NH faltered the most was its utmost predictability. Fifteen minutes in the show I told my husband, "They'll get snapped by the evil papparazzi, she'll get spooked, and dump him." Guess what? My husband replied, "Well, I'll say she has a boyfriend hidden somewhere. Just like that funeral wedding movie. The romance is going too easy." Bingo.
Notting Hill is fun, breezy, and Anna and William, while never having convinced me they would live happily ever after, had wonderful screen chemistry. It's just that I left the cinema with a lot of doubts. Take one: William was always apologizing and fawning. It was never a relationship with equal footing, as Anna seemed to hold all the cards. I guess in any argument, William would find himself giving in until eventually he became someone Anna wanted him to be, not who he really was. Not a feeling I wish to have after watching a romantic comedy.
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