“Notting Hill” is a romantic comedy with an unusual approach, as Julia Roberts is playing a fictional character who is equally as famous as Roberts is in the real world. The film is about how the most famous movie star in the world tries to establish a relationship with William Thacker, an ordinary man who owns a travel bookstore in Notting Hill.Warning: To do this review properly, I have had to discuss the ending. So, if you have not seen the film, please see it first, then come back and join me here again.
"A good film, but the ending is a disappointment."
In the film the main character, Anna Scott, is not a likeable character. In fact, at one stage in the film, you may hate the way she treats William. However, we do learn that Anna doesn’t believe that she can have a relationship with a normal person, and this may explain why she mistreats William.
As the film progresses we get less than a flattering image of Anna. We find out she is not honest. Even though she tells William that she was ready to leave her boyfriend, she didn’t tell William she had one. Also, in spite of being able, at times, to be charming, she has a temper. We see this when she gets angry with William when he inadvertently opens the blue door and is photographed by hundreds of paparazzi. Anna seems to be the kind of person who can be charming when everything is okay, then, when some unexpected problem occurs, goes off.
Anna is also a shallow person. For example, in the birthday party scene, where all the characters are telling their ‘hard luck stories’, Anna tells them what her problems are, and in comparison to say, the character in a wheel chair, Anna’s problems do not seem particularly significant. Some of the problems she mentions were, first, having to undergo painful plastic surgery – which was her choice – and, secondly problems due to her fame. (Maybe Anna Scott should “get over it.”)
Another example of her shallowness is her inability to put things in perspective when William opens the blue door on the paparazzi. She almost loses her temper over the incident. William then tries to tell her that there are more important problems to worry about than the paparazzi, but she just doesn’t get it.
Anna Scott’s behavior raised several questions. In the scene where she was first in William’s house, I wondered why she just stood there while he asked her questions. This was bound to make him feel awkward, and she didn’t seem to notice, as if she was insensitive to his discomfort. This was certainly not a nice thing to do. Secondly, when she kissed him, I felt that she was not a normal person, that she must have some sort of strange psychological reason for doing what she did. Of course, at this point, the film had my interest as I wondered what in the world was going to happen with their relationship.
The director, in his commentary (on the DVD) stated that Anna was to have a temper to make her a real character. He also said that the film could have ended in the bookstore, with William’s initial decision not to continue his relationship with Anna. (For William to have made such a decision would have been consistent with the type of character the director may have envisioned Anna to be.) Basically, William knew that Anna had problems that should be sorted out before she is able to have a successful relationship.
I think the unflattering portrait of Anna was deliberately drawn by the director, and the fact that we don’t like Anna is a tribute to Julia Robert’s acting and Michell’s directing. And, also, that unflattering portrait is the strength of the film, as it maintains interest.
William Thacker comes across as very British (very polite). For example, he is a gentlemen and does not get all worked up when he first sees Anna. He treats her with respect when she comes into his shop. (Perhaps it was this aspect of his character that first attracted him to her.) Also, later in the film, he doesn’t tell her straight out that the lines she is rehearsing with him are trite rubbish, but he implies it by the way he tells her that Henry James would be better.
Hugh, unfortunately, is indecisive. In the paparazzi scene, he should have stopped her (and Spike) from opening the door. Because he was not firm enough, and just didn’t say, “Don’t open the door,” the whole crisis occurred.
He seems to be slightly melancholic in the beginning. And it is ironic that he works in a book store that sells travel books, but he never travels.
In one scene, he seemed out of character. When covering up that he knew Anna to the journalist in the “Horse and Hound” scene, he refers to Anna as a “bitch” to the other journalist. This is the same behavior that Anna did later in the film when she told another actor that William, who was visiting on the set, was a “nobody.” William was upset when he heard Anna’s comment. (He only heard it because he was on her movie set and wearing headphones, and she was wearing a microphone.) When he referred to her as a “bitch,” he is, in essence, behaving as disloyal to her as she was to him. The only difference is she did not know about his disloyalty, whereas he knew about hers.
The character Spike brings a lot of humor into the story. He is basically an overgrown adolescent. The T-shirt scene added considerable humor to the movie, and showed that Spike didn’t have a clue about romance. (Even though he later refers to himself as a “maestro” in that area.)
Other areas of humor were the incidents where people see Anna, but do not see her. This happened with Spike, and with the man who answered the door in the birthday party scene. (However, using this same technique twice may be a plot weakness.)
One mistake made by the director, which he pointed out himself, was the paparazzi scene. During the breakfast scene, Anna and William are talking in the bedroom, while, outside, hundreds of paparazzi would be gathering. The director says that it is strange that Anna and William do not hear them.
I also wondered why Anna went into the book store in the first place. I did not find a suitable explanation for this.
One major problem I found was the ending. In the director’s commentary, he said that the film could have ended in the bookstore. Certainly, Anna was the type of character where we would accept that William would not want to continue their relationship. But in the Hollywood ending, William has accepted Anna just because she gave him a nice speech. Her basic character, which made him concerned about the success of a relationship with her, has not changed.
The director used some interesting cinematic techniques. For example, in Anna Scott’s initial entrance into the book store, she was out of focus. This made her entrance seem mysterious. Also, her movies were presented in black and white, or, as in the case of the space movie, in mysterious slow motion. In this way we can easily distinguish between which is reality (the world of Notting Hill) and which is just Anna Scott’s movies.
The writing was quite good and there were some clever lines. In the bookstore William said, “It was nice to meet you. Surreal, but nice.” And, “I’ll tell myself, sometimes. But I won’t believe it.”
The theme of the film can be summed up by the line, “To find someone you actually love, who’ll love you. The chances are miniscule.” If the film had been true to life, the film would have been an excellent example of that line.
Hugh Grant’s acting was very subtle. A lot of his character’s feelings were portrayed through expression only, without words. His acting ability is clear in the premiere scene in the end of the film. Even though Hugh Grant has attended premieres before, he was able to make it look like his character was doing it for the first time.
Julia Roberts gave her character dimension, which, of course, meant that she made Anna not totally likeable.
All the actors had excellent comedic timing.
The DVD version is excellent. The color is good, the soundtrack excellent, and there are plenty of excellent features. The director’s commentary is direct and to the point, “Hugh Grant’s Movie Tips” are humorous and informative (though a bit short), and the deleted scenes are great. In fact, one of the deleted scenes, where William tells his parents about his relationship with Anna was funnier that most of the movie. (It should have been left in.) There is also a section called “the Travel Book,” which shows the location of the movie, and some maps showing the location of important areas of interest, including shopping and dining places in Notting Hill. Of course, there were the usual cast and filmmakers’ biographies.Overall, if you like romantic comedies, you will not be disappointed with this film. However, if you are not satisfied with a feel good but unrealistic Hollywood ending, then you will not find the film believable.
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=973&reviewer=228
originally posted: 12/26/00 08:16:16