When this came out in 1999 I caught the trailers on TV, but I never saw the movie. This was past the time I quit going to movie theaters, and Notting Hill never showed up on Turner Classic Movies, that I ever noticed. Since I quit cable TV back in March I’ve been watching Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, and with September this has apparently been added by Amazon. It’s worth a look. I’m getting details from Wikipedia.
I knew from watching the trailers 17 years ago this was a kind of Cinderella story. A very ordinary guy, with emphasis on ordinary, hooks up with a glamorous movie actress, and there’s obviously going to be some tension. It’s what makes the plot, and I do believe the device has been used several times before.
Strange thing, from the TV trailers I got the idea the story ends with the two going their separate ways, but I was delightfully surprised. As usual, I won’t recap the plot. I’m just going to touch on some highlights and do my usual critique. Here’s the story.
Will Thacker (Hugh Grant) lives in London, and London, as I learned when I was there one time, is really a collection of towns, and possibly Notting Hill is one of those. Will shares a flat with a screwball Welshman, known only as Spike (Rhys Ifans), and he has a bookshop that’s a good walk away through the heart of Notting Hill. The bookshop sells only travel books and is called, appropriately “The Travel Book Store.” It’s not making any money.
Then, one day, as Will is minding the counter, in walks Julia Roberts, looking to purchase a book. Only it’s not really Julia Roberts, it’s Julia Roberts playing Anna Scott, the fabulously attractive and talented actress whose face adorns city buses all over London and whose picture is on the front of every tabloid and trade magazine. Will spots her right away. He manages to sell her a book, not the one he thought she should have bought, but the one she thought she should have. He throws in an extra book, one he thought she really should have. He bags the books and sends her on her way. Sigh.
So, Will’s brush with the ravishing Anna Scott is about to fade when fate steps in. He splashes orange juice all over the front of her nice shirt. What a way to make an impression. I’m not going to tell you how this came about.
But he does make an impression, and shortly Anna is Will’s date at his sister’s birthday party. Anna is comfortable meeting Will’s wacky sister Honey (Emma Chambers) at a dinner thrown by Max (Tim McInnerny) and Bella (Gina McKee). She also meets another friend, Bernie (Hugh Bonneville). Tragically, Bella has been crippled from a fall and must use a wheelchair.
Will and Anna are attracted to each other, but this may not be going anywhere. Again, fate steps in. Hideous nude photos of Anna have, after over a decade or so, finally made their way to the tabloids, and Anna is being hounded by the press. She flees to Will’s flat, and he takes her in. Biology kicks in, and they finally get some quality sack time. At this point it’s the morning after, and the two of them are discussing people’s fascination with everything sexual. Anna remarks on men’s obsession with tits, only she calls them breasts. Will takes a look.
I have previously commented on Roberts’ tits. It came about this way:
This is the second time I reviewed this movie. I believe the first time I said something like, “This movie has two things going for it, and Roberts has them.” Julia Roberts, of course, was playing the title role in Erin Brockovich.
In Erin Brockovich tits were a factor. I think Roberts, maybe even Brockovich, used a push up for emphasis, because Roberts is not known for grandiose knockers, despite my comment above.
Bad news. Spike, having the previous night come home to find Anna in the bathtub, has dropped a few words to pals in the pub, and come morning light a screaming throng of paparazzi clog the street out front. Will discovers this when he goes to investigate, dressed in shirt and shorts. Anna confirms when she goes to investigate, dressed in one of Will’s shirts. Spike confirms, dressed only in his BVDs. Anna departs, possibly forever.
Getting the two back together is a major theme of the plot, and it’s ticklish. Anna’s leaving has left Will in a sexual funk, and his friends try to help out. We see a parade of blind dates, beginning with a prize loser, and culminating with an absolutely acceptable woman of the female persuasion. I know about these things. We last see Will’s final date, wistfully walking away, possibly wondering if she has bad breath or something.
Not to complicate the telling, Anna comes back to London to make a Henry James movie, as Will had previously recommended, and things almost go off track again. It’s a Graduate moment as Will catches Anna’s attention just as she is about to leave London forever. There follows a blow-out wedding, and the final scene shows Will and Anna sharing a park bench, with Will possibly reading Henry James.
And yes, Spike marries Honey. So it is a Cinderella ending after all.
It’s obvious why Roberts was chosen for the part of Anna. In late 20th century American film she is recognized as a prime natural beauty. As far as I can tell, she is aging well. The part of Anna is heart warmingly down to earth. Pulling $15 million per picture, as she confesses to Bernie, she has retained a firm grip on reality, lamenting that shortly her looks will fade, and her career will enter the history books. Belying the stereotypical Hollywood starlet, she is not empty-headed or giddy, and she is aware of her own true worth. Perhaps, as the plot goes, this is why she is attracted to Will. He is one straight guy, having previously been married and abandoned. Neither has he any illusions.
What I found troubling was Will’s mid-plot romance, or lack thereof. His friends have hooked him up with what appears to be a just right woman, and he lets her go. Of course, guys reading this will recognize the situation, because it happens to us all the time. No, it does not. Everybody watching has to be wondering what is wrong with Will. Of course, if he latched onto Miss Right, then that would be the end of the plot, so he didn’t
Finally, one needs to be troubled by the core of this plot. Glamorous movie queen marries ordinary man. History has not been kind. Jane Froman survived a plane crash in 1943 and later married the co-pilot John Burns. The marriage did not last. You have to guess the Anna and Will coupling will have a chance, as is appears at the end that Anna is retiring from acting. Will is not a financial success by any means, and there’s always going to be the issue of his wife’s money. Not easy to get around.