29 May 1999 | EdRooney
Up The "Hill"
> After suffering a divorce, a marriage between a best friend and an ex-lover, not to mention living with a complete slob for a roommate, travel bookstore owner William (Hugh Grant) was just trying to live a peaceful existence in Notting Hill, England with his disastrous lovelife and a fledgling bookstore. When American film megastar Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) comes in to browse for books about Turkey, the two sense a mutual attraction and begin a delicate love affair that threatens both their complicated lives. The crux of "Notting Hill" is this : can two exact opposites in the complex world of publicity and disposable relationships stay together forever? Screenwriter Richard Curtis's ("Four Weddings And A Funeral") goal this time around seems to be a sharp satire of the Hollywood starlets and their psychotic relationships with the public and themselves, and the old wacky English humour we've come to expect from any film with Mr. Grant. It's a very odd mixture of the audience-pleasing easy comedy and something more sinister - possibly due to both lead's past public lives. He creates two compelling characters in Anna and Garrett. They both have very convincing motives for the courtship, it isn't just a roll in the hay and then the aftermath like most films. Director Roger Michell keeps the flow nice and the two leads make good on their promise for charm and beauty. I'm a little irritated that so many would consider this a big step for Julia Roberts in the acting department. She already gave a commanding performance in last year's "Stepmom". With "Hill", Roberts continues her impressive growth spurt into real adult acting and role choices. Her work with Grant here is the most easy going I've even seen her do(Maybe one too many close-ups of that smile though...). Hugh Grant does his stammering best to make William seem lovable. I'm not a fan of Mr. Grant, but I will easily concede that this is his best performance to date. Rhys Ifans is disgusting (a good thing) as Spike, William's flatmate. He brings some very much needed brevity to the proceedings. If anyone ever needs an actor to represent an English skuzzball, they should call this guy. If the charming "Notting Hill" suffers from anything it might be the "She's All That" syndrome. Whenever you get the relationship ball rolling, it seems in everyone of these movies we need a forced situation to break up the two leads, just so we can cheer when they reconcile. That's fine, no complaints. In "Hill", this syndrome is put to the extreme test. We follow this romance through, I believe, at least three breakups. That's too many for a two hour film. We never get sure footing on to why these two should be together and that is a frustrating element. Director Michell tries to hold onto the reins, but the climax of the film is forced and seriously uncharacteristic of the movie. "Notting Hill" has a lot to say about fame and the effects of it on a life. It never bothers to take a stand or really explain if Roberts's character embraces her superstardom or is oppressed by it. Screenwriter Curtis makes compelling arguments for both sides of the debate but strays away from truly looking deep within the fishbowl. When you think about it, William was a fan of Anna before meeting her, yet that subject seems too taboo for the film. What we get is just puppy love, no strings.
"Notting Hill" is an extremely charming film with so much love to offer. It's a concoction that's hard to resist. You'll come out of it with a warm fuzzy feeling in the tips of your toes. It's nice to have a film that just wants to please, I just wish they didn't lay such a heavy topic wet blanket over the proceedings. --------------- 8