Seeing Roberts and Grant together on screen, we expect romance, but a comedy like "Notting Hill" is all about delaying it. The two of them live in different worlds: Anna Scott (Roberts) is a movie star; William (Grant) runs a little book shop in London. As the film opens, she happens into his store, and appreciates how he handles a would-be shoplifter. He tries to keep cool, but is rattled by her fame and beauty. She acknowledges his unspoken admiration, and is grateful that it remains that way, although there's plenty of electricity between them.
They next meet by accident -- he spills orange juice on her. Eventually, they meet again, at a press conference at the Ritz, where he's mistaken for a journalist. Identifying himself as a "film critic for Horse & Hound Magazine," he asks about her pets. The setting allows comic exaggeration.
This movie is realistic about movie stars' lives. Anna Scott isn't simply a desirable woman, but a complicated one. Moments of truth in the middle of this comedy bring the viewer to the kind of stillness you get when truth is told: Roberts looks into the camera and predicts Anna's future: "One day, my looks will go, and I'll be a sad, middle-aged woman who looks like someone who was famous for a while." Another comes when she tells William that the price of her beauty was two painful operations, and points silently to her nose and chin. Anyone who gets millions for being in a movie has to submit to "upkeep." To be famous and beautiful is to risk losing ordinary happiness, this movie suggests.
The first "date" Anna and William have is his sister's birthday party. William's circle includes his airhead sister Honey (Chambers), his best friend Max (McInnerny), Max's beloved, wheelchair-bound wife, Bella (McKee), his stockbroker pal Bernie (Bonneville), and Welsh roommate, Spike (Ifans). These friends are a happy, earthy alternative to Anna's movie-star circle, and treat Anna more or less normally, so she really enjoys the evening. Then, when her movie star boyfriend (Baldwin) makes a surprise visit to her hotel room, her real life returns. The movie is bright, the dialogue witty and intelligent, and Roberts and Grant are likeable. By the end, even aware of the ancient story, we're smiling.
Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Richard McCabe, Rhys Ifans, James Dreyfus, Dylan Moran
Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant; bookstore, family movies
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