Review: Notting Hill (Don HARLOW)

Notting Hill

Movie by Richard CURTIS

reviewed by Don HARLOW

   Well, I must face it I'm a sucker for a happy ending. So when my wife dragged me off to this movie, she didn't have to drag very hard.

   Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), greatest Film Goddess in the world, is in London for the opening of her new SF spectacular Helix. (One scene from the film shows Roberts wearing a space suit. The suit is straight out of Barbarella. Unfortunately, unlike Jane Fonda in that earlier movie, Roberts is not shown straight out of the suit...) Further out in the West End, in the quaint little district of Notting Hill, (1) William Thacker (Hugh Grant) is involved in his own business of running a small travel book store that would probably show some black ink if only he were to add a few novels by Dickens or Grisham to the shelves. Then Anna Scott walks in to buy a book about Turkey...

   Boy meets girl. Boy and girl dance around the obvious (first date a sister's birthday party). Boy and girl walk in park. Boy and girl have first romantic tryst rudely aborted (girl's boyfriend shows up). Boy loses girl. Girl comes looking for shoulder to cry on (when all those old Hustler pictures are picked up by the tabloid). Love triumphs. Love loses. Love triumphs again. Need I go into further details?

   Hugh Grant plays the quiet, polite, retiring and not-very-worldly character I've seen before from him (Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility), though here he occasionally comes out with a mild expletive that he knows no American viewer will understand ("Sod a dog!"). Tinker Bell ... uh, I mean Julia Roberts ... is attractive in a sort of hatchet-faced way (her character reports two extremely painful operations to give her her looks, one on the nose and one on the chin; if this is art imitating life, I'd say that the operations were failures); she'd be ideal as the Bad Witch in another children's fairy-tale movie. Other characters, even those with semi-important roles, move in and out without making any major impression -- with the possible exception of roommate Spike (Rhys Ifans), who is either mad as the proverbial hatter or perhaps the wisest person in the film (he is the ultimate savior of the romance when he makes Thacker realize that he has been a "daft prick"). Alec Baldwin (the erstwhile Shadow) has a cameo role.

   I enjoyed it. But I don't know whether it's for everybody.


(1) Notting Hill is, I believe, the district just north of the Notting Hill Gate tube station, on the Western Line. This is about two-thirds of the way from Oxford Circus to the storefront office of the Esperanto Association of Britain, for those who are familiar with those two landmarks. As another reviewer pointed out, the area has been heavily gentrified for the benefit of this film; tourists who visit the area expecting to find themselves comfortably surrounded by a sea of white faces, a la the film, are due for a major disillusionment.

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