Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 120 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, May 28, 1999
Directed by Roger Michell

Starring Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans, Hugh Bonneville, Emma Chambers, Tim McInnery & Gina McKee


The nice thing about watching this film on video is you'll be able to mute the dreadful, whiney music that makes the romantic bits nearly intolerable - thereby making the movie far more enjoyable. Now if we could just do something about the idiotic ending...

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11/9/99

Julia Roberts:
"Stepmom" (1998)
"Conspiracy Theory" (1997)
"My Best Friend's Wedding" (1997)
"Everyone Says I Love You" (1996)
"Something to Talk About" (1995)

Hugh Grant:
"Restoration" (1995)

Music so obnoxiously intrusive it ruins romance between starlet, shop owner in 'Notting Hill'

By Rob Blackwelder

I think I might have really enjoyed "Notting Hill" -- an unlikely, light and lively romance between a Hollywood superstar (Julia Roberts) and a the owner of a tucked-away London book shop (Hugh Grant) -- but for one huge obstacle that I just couldn't get past:

Every time it starts to get really good, every time it reaches a romantic or emotional high, the soundtrack chimes in and ruins the scene with invariably intrusively and often downright awful songs, many of which sound like the producers dug up John Denver and forced an acoustic guitar into his decaying hands.

Yes, that's not a pretty picture. Sorry if I brought up your lunch with that analogy. But the music really ruined this movie for me, and I just wanted to drive the point home.

Save that, "Notting Hill" is a smart, lithesome and well-acted charmer that ranks very high on the romantic comedy scale (about 2/3 of a "Four Weddings and a Funeral"), in spite of some rather transparent scripting.

Our leads, both in roles that simply couldn't be played by anyone else, meet when movie star Anna Scott (Roberts) happens into a quiet travel book store owned by foppy nobody William Thacker (Grant) while on a break between making bad, big-budget blockbusters -- and immediately there's a spark of unexpected romantic chemistry.

This well-balanced bounty of one-liners and sincere romantic discourse from the pen of writer-producer Richard Curtis (who was responsible for "Four Weddings") has many of the usual trappings of great romantic comedy, but the angle is fresh and fantasy-fulfilling. What average Joe or Jane wouldn't want to have a gorgeous movie fall in love with them? It's a movie that will set hearts aflutter, but it also gets a lot of long, hard laughs, often at Hollywood's expense.

Grant trades once again on his irresistibly clumsy, self-deprecating charm, but Roberts not only gets another great role in the genre where she's done her best work, she also gets to mock the Event Film and her own celebrity by playing Anna as an overpaid, mediocre and not entirely stable actress, who recognizes her shortcomings but hopes to someday star in something better than sci-fi extravaganzas and submarine thrillers in which she has to "save the world in 20 minutes."

Director Robert Michell ("Persuasion") grounds "Notting Hill" with the bumpy realities of this unlikely relationship, and chooses visually creative ways to depict Grant's loneliness when Roberts walks away from their affair at one point in the film.

He brings forth the hearts of his characters so well that it feels true to life from each point of view. The average movie goer gets to feel what it's like to be Julia Roberts, even as she makes fun of the staples of a movie star's public life -- press junkets, no-nudity clauses and stunt bottoms, pursuant paparazzi and high-profile boyfriends (Alec Baldwin has a funny, uncredited cameo as her tempestuous big star beau who ads another obstacle to the romance).

But the film also falls back on some overly obvious plot advancement at times. One of the secondary characters is in a wheelchair, which clearly will come into play at some point or Curtis wouldn't have bothered to include it. Likewise, it's a foredrawn conclusion that William's mangy, unhinged roommate (Rhys Ifans) will end up romancing his equally oddball sister (Emma Chambers). It's so obvious, in fact, that the director doesn't even bother to develop the storyline. He just tosses in a marriage proposal even though the characters hardly know each other.

That sort of thing is largely forgivable, though, especially in the face of such pitch-perfect and very comical performances by Roberts, Grant and his ensemble of friends.

If only it weren't for the music!

If you think I'm petty for not being able to overlook this single element in an otherwise good movie, you may be right. Perhaps I shouldn't make such a big deal of it. But that single element so overrides any of my pleasant memories of "Notting Hill" that writing this rather unwieldy review took me twice as long as usual because I had to struggle to recall the parts I liked. What more can I say?

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