Notting Hill

on May 28, 1999 by Christine James
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   The requisite complication in this boy-meets/loses/gets-girl yarn is the fact that the girl in question is a gorgeous superstar actress. Fortunately, the boy happens to look a lot like Hugh Grant, so perhaps the coupling is not quite as improbable as "Notting Hill's" tagline, "Can the most famous film star in the world fall for the man on the street?", would have us believe. (Had the "man on the street" instead been the protagonist's inhumanly skanky roommate Spike, that would have been a whole other movie--one that John Waters might cast an eye toward directing and Troma would beg to distribute.)
   William Thacker (Grant) is an unassuming bookstore owner whose quiet life in his beloved London town of Notting Hill is turned upside-down when mega-celebrity Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) walks into his modest shop. William's witty quips don't quite hide his star-struck flabbergastedness, and despite a winsome repartee, Anna buys her book and leaves. But Fate won't have that! Moments later, William accidentally bumps into the woman who's left him so bedazzled and spills orange juice all over her shirt; conveniently, they're steps away from his home, and she reluctantly accepts his invitation to come inside and clean up. He quickly falls head over heels, and to both of their surprise, so does she. But her glamorous life and its unglamorous underpinnings repeatedly threaten to undo the romance before it has even begun.
   The chemistry between our lovely leads is only fair to middling; the reason for their mutual attraction beyond the physical is only demonstrated when each overhears the other making clever and morally conscientious remarks. Other nitpicks include a circle of friends that's a bit too purposefully wacky and a surface treatment of potentially rich subject matter (the real life of a celebrity) that never fully humanizes the heroine. Though these elements keep "Notting Hill" from being a classic swooner, there are plenty of warmly waggish yocks care of scripter Richard Curtis, who wrote similarly rollicking deadpan humor for Grant to great effect in "Four Weddings and a Funeral." Starring Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Roger Michell. Written by Richard Curtis. Produced by Duncan Kenworthy. A Universal release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language. Running time: 123 min
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