Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Notting Hill

By Hollis Chacona

JUNE 1, 1999: 

D: Roger Michell; with Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Rhys Ifans, Emma Chambers, Tim McInnery, Gina McKee, Hugh Bonneville. (PG-13, 123 min.)

English tea is a straightforward brew. Warmly familiar and comfortingly sweet, a nice hot cuppa is equally suited to a solitary bit of weeping, a good cuddle with a sweetie, or a hearty chuckle with friends. Notting Hill is a veritable pot full of the stuff. No smoky Darjeeling or perfumey Earl Grey here, just the plain black brew, hot and light and sweet. Anna Scott (Roberts) is a big, big American movie star, her beautiful face plastered on every magazine, newspaper, and bus. William Thacker (Grant) is a struggling shopkeeper in Notting Hill, an eclectic neighborhood on the west side of London. The two don't seem destined to meet. But they do, when Anna comes into the store one day, and again later when their paths and very different worlds literally collide. Fame vs. anonymity. Rich vs. poor. American vs. British. Can love overcome the differences? Writer Richard Curtis and producer Duncan Kenworthy, who struck it rich with Four Weddings and a Funeral, mine the same vein in this picture and there's still some gold in them there hills, or at least in Notting Hill. Funny, bright, sly, and unabashedly romantic, Notting Hill combines fluffy, fairy-tale fantasy with big laughs, snappy dialogue, and small moments of pain and unease to create a surprisingly satisfying two hours. Though Grant's stammering charm and Roberts' radiant beauty are both brilliantly evident, their romance falls oddly flat. But no matter. The real fun is not in the lead characters but in the rest of the players. Rhys Ifans is ridiculously funny and exquisitely unbelievable as William's shaggy and blithely repulsive flatmate, Spike. Emma Chambers (who lights up the small screen each week as Alice in the British PBS comedy, Vicar of Dibley) is hilariously discomfiting as Honey, Charles' sincerely fawning baby sister. But it is William's best friends, Max (McInnery) and Bella (McKee) who steal away with the heart of the picture. Their marriage has faced its own test of odds and emerged quietly, shiningly triumphant, and their moments together are the stuff, not of fantasy, but of true and abiding affection. Anna and William's fate, fairy tale that it is, is destined for happily ever after, but Honey's and Spike's and Max's and Bella's futures are less clear, and thus far more interesting. These are the people Curtis knows best and the ones, with their uncompleted lives, who leave the theatre with us. You may prefer a more exotic blend or something more nutritious or a stiffer drink altogether, but if every once in a while you crave a spot of something sweet and warm and comforting, Notting Hill could be just your cup of tea.
2.5 stars


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