|Starring||Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Richard McCabe|
You can try to deny it all you want, but at one time or another, you've had a crush on a celebrity. Maybe you wrote "Mrs. Johnny Depp" all over your Trapper Keeper, or maybe you had a poster of Farrah Fawcett above your bed. It's a universal chapter of the human experience, and the idea of meeting the famous object of your affection probably makes up about 50% of the world's cumulative fantasies. What would you say? What would you be wearing? Most important, how would your hair look?
In 1999, Richard Curtis brought this dream to life on screen with NOTTING HILL. A master of romantic comedy, Curtis achieved massive success with his screenplay for FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, and his gifts for humor and chemistry continue to shine in this story of a lonely bookshop owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) who meets Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), the most famous actress in the world. Surprising everyone, most particularly William, Anna seeks out a relationship with him, but her fame paves a rocky road for their romance.
The charm of this film stems directly from the cast of colorful characters, starting with William, the bumbling, rather hopeless hero who exclaims things like, "Whoopsy daisy!" while somehow managing to be totally attractive. (Hugh Grant's handsome looks certainly help out in this arena.) And then there's Julia Roberts, America's Sweetheart, playing... America's Sweetheart. Obviously, she's incredibly believable in the role. But it's Rhys Ifans who steals the spotlight as Spike, William's slightly insane and awesomely disgusting flatmate who wears inappropriate t-shirts (when he's wearing anything at all) and eats mayonnaise straight out of the jar. Rounding out the cast is William's family, who are an authentic mix of normal and eccentric, as well as Alec Baldwin, who nails the character of Jeff King, Anna's boorish movie star boyfriend. He's almost too convincing.
Then there's Notting Hill, which is such a vital aspect of the film that it should be considered a character in its own right. The colorful backdrop of Portobello Road and rows of quaint shops tinge the movie with a delightful warmth and create a world where all of us hope to live. (Seriously, who wants to open a travel book store with me?)
Nowadays, the phrase "romantic comedy" can mean any number of unpleasant or superficial things, but NOTTING HILL brings an incredible amount of integrity to the genre with its understated humor and emotional depth. It's cozy like a cup of tea but complex in its flavor, and over 14 years after its release, this film stands out as a wonderfully compelling story of a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. (Sarah Pitre)