Notting Hill (1999)

Directed by Roger Michell

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I can’t find it right now, but there’s some Billy Wilder quote about how in romantic comedies you don’t need to establish reasons why the central couple should be together but instead establish reasons they can’t be together.  That’s the whole movie, all those obstacles, and I think Notting Hill does just as good a job as any in this regard.

I’m not sure if Hugh Grant was a star by the time this came out, but he at least soon would be.  Julia Roberts already was, and she plays one in the film.

Going into the movie you know it’ll be about them getting together, so the story wastes no time trying to establish some shared sense of humor or ideology.  Instead they have a “meet cute,” they lock eyes, and boom that’s all you need.  From there we see all the things that get in the way, most notably the fact that she’s rich and famous and that he’s just a bookstore owner in a quaint area of London that the movie seems to think is akin to Dorothy in Kansas.

It’s such a romantic comedy, from that quaint quality to all the tertiary characters there to comment on their situation and provide broad comedy.  Everything here is about Hugh and Julia, everything comments on them and their viability, and you get the sense there are cosmic forces at play to encourage their blissful union, like John Connor sending Kyle Reese back in time not only to save Sarah Connor’s life but ensure that they conceive John Connor himself.

And it works here, it’s all charming and whatnot, imagining a playful little world that anyone wouldn’t mind stepping into.  Even William’s (Hugh Grant) apartment is so damn appealing.  He keeps speaking with disdain of his little travel bookstore and how broke he is, but his life is just so damn picturesque, and that flat must cost a lot more than the movie lets on.

Anna (Julia Roberts) gets what is perhaps the definitive movie line, near the end when she makes her case to William, but other than she mostly comments on the movie industry and appears rather in distress, like Rapunzel in her tower.

In either case it’s their shared affection which will save them, I suppose, from a life that is both miserable and delightful at the same time.  But isn’t that the impression all rom-coms offer?

It’s nevertheless enticing, something you want to see happen, maybe not so much because you are so drawn to each of them but because you can only take so much teasing.  It’s like a golf ball on the lip of a hole, a soft breeze away from falling in.  With each narrative obstacle you grow a little more impatient until the film delivers what the poster promises, and all is bliss.

This one, if it has anything else in mind to say, suggests the simple complication of conducting a relationship between one person famous and one person not.  Weirdly it coincides with other recent films I happen to have seen, Long Shot and Yesterday, though in neither case is the fame quality the most direct obstacle.

So it’s a pleasant film in a pleasant neighborhood with pleasant people and the cameo of one unpleasant person.  In the end, as movies often suggest, love wins.

Up Next: Yesterday (2019), Jojo Rabbit (2019), Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

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