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Old February 3rd, 2012, 01:49 AM
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Notting Hill (1999)

by Shining Raichu



“The fame thing isn’t really real, you know. Don’t forget, I’m also just a girl… standing in front of a boy… asking him to love her.”
- Anna Scott


Romantic comedies are a plagued genre. They are often gimmicky and ridiculous and have received a terrible reputation for being formulaic rubbish. This is something I don’t mind, because it means that when a good one does come along, watching it is a far more rewarding experience for the effort of the hunt. Not to be racist, but decent romantic comedies are not something that America tends to do well, so it stands to reason that the job would fall to Britain.

Notting Hill (1999) is that rare example of a rom-com which is both smartly conceived and executed, and holds true with the utmost competence to both aspects of the genre. It is the story of William Thacker (Hugh Grant), the owner of a travel-book shop in London’s Notting Hill, whose life is changed forever when Anna Scott (Julia Roberts), the most famous actress on Earth, wanders into his store to buy a book.

From the moment she enters the store, it is clear that she knows how to handle herself. At the time of filming, this movie would have held a parallel to Julia Roberts’ real life, as she was then the most famous woman in our world. As such, it was apparent that the role was a familiar one for her to play, which had the potential to make her performance less impressive by comparison. Instead, it managed to make it all the more realistic. The way her character is written and performed – beginning with unimpressed detachment and evolving into something more fun and radiant as the film progresses – ensures that we the audience fall in love with her just as quickly and easily as Mr. Thacker.

Also astoundingly evident from the moment two meet is the chemistry between the two actors – and correspondingly, the characters. I find that it is difficult to quantify such intangible qualities as ‘chemistry’, but it was infectiously clear right from the beginning that the two were comfortable with each other, and that made it all the more fun to watch their love story unfold.

The genius of the movie is that it follows the core romantic comedy plot convention down to the letter; from the meet-cute to the end chase, but this is only apparent upon close inspection of the movie. While watching, it’s very difficult to sense this conformity because the strange dynamic brought about by Anna’s fame alters the way each convention must be achieved just enough to make it invisible and seamless among the hilariously clever dialogue and sensible (one might say ‘British’) tone.

The film is very self-assured, which works infinitely to its advantage. It doesn’t feel the need to explain itself or justify itself to you with needless commentary on the motivations of its characters – a trap into which so many romantic comedies fall. It is this matter-of-fact style of story-telling that empowers the film to convince its audience that the surreal events taking place could in fact be a real-world truth. It allows us to believe without question that a famous movie star could indeed fall in love with a travel-book salesman. Then in turn, with our disbelief suspended, it frees us to enjoy the rest of what the movie has to offer.

Finally, one of the most noteworthy aspects of the film was the music. The music is so well selected and utilized and it complements every moment perfectly, enhancing the romantic and emotional pay-off of the film both in watching and in retrospect. The two stand-out choices (and possibly the most famous) were Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All” and “She”, which summed up the whole tone of the film magnificently.

If you want to watch a story about love, it is important to shop around. I would go so far as to say that 80% of the romantic comedy genre is sub-par. But when you find a good one, it is totally worth the hunt. Notting Hill is the reason I continue to watch the genre at all; it is a search in the vain hope that I might find another movie of similar quality. The fact that this has only happened four times in the thirteen years since it was released says a lot about love in film. It is a far more difficult topic to tackle than for which any of us give it credit, and it takes a far more precise formula than meet-cutes and ending chases to get it right. It is very easy to make a movie realistic and honest – a route which many of the most recent ventures have endeavoured to take – but in my opinion, it is a far greater gift to take a story so idealistic and improbable and make the audience believe it anyway. Notting Hill hits every note perfectly, and I would recommend it to anybody.

Rating – 5/5
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