Should I Watch..? Notting Hill
What's the big deal?
Notting Hill is a romantic comedy film released in 1999 written by Richard Curtis, the legendary scribe behind hits like Four Weddings And A Funeral and the festive blockbuster Love Actually. Once again reuniting Curtis with actor Hugh Grant, the film focuses on a relationship between a famous actress and an ordinary member of the public and the various issues arising from such a situation. The film is named after the area of London in which the movie is predominantly set. The film also reunites Curtis with many of the crew from Four Weddings And A Funeral and this does make Notting Hill feel like a spiritual successor to the earlier smash hit. It became the highest grossing British film of the year and received critical praise upon release.
What's it about?
Will Thacker owns a small travel book store in Notting Hill, London whilst living around the corner in a flat with his eccentric Welsh friend Spike. Flabbergasted that superstar actress Anna Scott appears in his store to buy a book, Will goes for a brief walk and bumps into her again whilst spilling orange juice down her in the process. Heading back to Will's place to change, they exchange a kiss before Anna leaves. So begins a fledging relationship between the two.
Of course, true love rarely runs smoothly and the pair have to contend with a variety of issues. Press intrusion into both of their lives threaten to keep them apart while her hectic working schedule forces her to leave London for a while, leaving Will heart-broken. Can the two of them find a way to make things work or are the obstacles too great for them ever to have a real relationship?
Release Date (UK)
21st May, 1999
What's to like?
Despite assertions that I only enjoy a film with explosions or someone wearing a cape, there is a soft spot for good romantic comedies and Notting Hill is a fine example. We all know that Curtis is a great writer thanks to the aforementioned films as well as TV shows like Blackadder and The Vicar Of Dibley. He and Grant have developed a weird symbiosis where England is full of delightfully quirky eccentrics and stuttering gentlemen straight out of a P.G. Wodehouse novel. That said, Notting Hill uses its supporting cast brilliantly to develop the world around Grant's character - in fact, most of the comedy comes from Ifans, Chambers and Bonneville as well as Curtis' sharp eye for comedic dialogue. It also frees Grant and Roberts up to do what they do best, namely getting tongue-tied and grinning a lot.
The film has a somewhat romanticised view of London (like snowfall in winter) but rarely does the capital look as good as it does here. The other thing I enjoyed was how it still felt like a genuine relationship despite the madness surrounding it. The film's soundtrack is also wonderful - I loved the clever scene of Will wandering aimlessly around Portobello Road as the seasons change around him, scored to Bill Withers' timeless Ain't No Sunshine. It just about avoids becoming overly sentimental like Love Actually completely failed to do and for couples on a date night, this is about as good as it gets.
- Anna Scott is asked how much she made on her last movie and she replies "$15 million". That isn't strictly true - it's how much Julia Roberts was paid for appearing in this movie.
- The house with the blue door in Notting Hill once belonged to writer Richard Curtis. After the film's release, the then-owner sold up and auctioned off the door while the new owner replaced it with a black one to prevent fans from recognising it.
- Shooting on the streets in Notting Hill presented numerous problems due to the number of people who live there. The location manager wrote to thousands of people living there for permission, promising to donate to a charity of their choice if permission was granted. 200 charities received donations in this way.
What's not to like?
There are moments when the film seems a bit too close to Four Weddings And A Funeral but that's to be expected, given most of the crew worked on this as well. What you might not expect is the two leads almost sleepwalking in their roles - yes, a stuttering English gent and the world's most famous actress isn't exactly a stretch for either Grant and Roberts but they feel much less like real people than those played by the supporting cast. It's as though they didn't feel the need to put in any effort which is understandable given their roles. Some of their dialogue also feels a bit sugary as well.
Being a rom-com, it does mean that there is a certain degree of inevitability to Notting Hill but films like these are about the journey, not the destination. The script offers more than just a couple of star-crossed lovers by including ruminations on the nature of fame, its drawbacks and some of the more unintended consequences of dating a famous movie star. But its comedy is genteel and evenly paced, not the frenetic farce of something like There's Something About Mary. It's rarely laugh-out-loud but such goofball antics wouldn't suit a film this fantastical anyway. There is one other thing I'd mentioned which is that the version of Notting Hill that appears here is nothing like Notting Hill in real life. There isn't a single significant character of colour and no mention of the world famous carnival that takes place every year.
Should I watch it?
It might lack the emotional clout of Four Weddings And A Funeral or the festive, syrupy, cheesiness of Love Actually but Notting Hill is actually a quality little picture in its own right, one that I might even prefer. In spite of the strange world it inhabits, you identify with the characters and run with it unlike dozens of other rom-coms. The supporting cast prop up the two leads brilliantly and the film's humour is enough to win you over. It might be an extremely sanitised rom-com but what it does, it does very well.
Great For: couples, date nights, London residents
Not So Great For: cynics, Hugh Grant's public persona, untickled funny bones
What else should I watch?
There are no shortage of romantic comedies on the market as they are cheap to make and often score big takings at the box office. Finding a good one, however, can be tricky but there are several to choose from. Obviously, the aforementioned films written by Curtis are a great place to start, even if Love Actually is so sugary that it should have a warning for diabetics before the opening credits.
Of course, it's not just the Brits who make rom-coms. When Harry Met Sally is arguably the most famous Hollywood rom-com while Silver Linings Playbook was hugely successful more recently. My favourite, though, is Juno featuring Ellen Page as a sarcastic high school student who unexpectedly falls pregnant. It has a wonderfully indie feel to it and has one of the best soundtracks I've heard in a while.
© 2015 Benjamin Cox