Notting Hill [DVD]
Screenplay : Richard Curtis
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Julia Roberts (Anna Scott), Hugh Grant (William Thacker), Hugh Bonneville (Bernie), Emma Chambers (Honey), James Dreyfus (Martin), Rhys Ifans (Spike), Tim McInnerny (Max), Gina McKee (Bella), Richard McCabe (Tony)
Notting Hill is about a mere mortal who falls in love with a goddess. Well, not quite a "goddess," but the closest thing we have these days: a $15-million-a-picture movie star. And what happens when mortals get involved with the gods? As one character puts it not-so-lightly, "Buggered. Every time."
The mortal in question is William Thacker (Hugh Grant), a quiet chap who lives in Notting Hill, a small, ethnically diverse and very hip corner of West London. He owns a small travel bookshop and hasn't been too successful in life. His wife left him for someone who looks like Harrison Ford, and he doesn't sell many books--apparently there aren't many people in Notting Hill looking for travel books about Turkey.
The goddess is Anna Scott, played in a bit of inspired casting by Julia Roberts (actually, the part was written with her in mind). It's a strange situation where film meets reality because, after all, Julia Roberts is undoubtedly one of the most famous and revered movie actresses of the last decade. Her face and her smile are known throughout the world, and there is something of an interesting subtext where it's easy to imagine she's not so much playing Anna Scott, as Anna Scott is a reflection of Julia Roberts. It makes the character more personal and also more sympathetic, which helps the movie get over its major hurdle, namely convincing its audience to care and eventually feel sorry for a physically flawless woman who makes $15 million for six weeks of work and is loved and adored by millions.
Anna and William meet in a series of small coincidences around his bookshop, and eventually their relationship moves from being movie star and admirer, to being friends, to being romantically involved. Her life is too complicated and his is too simple, and it's easy to see why they would love each other. She offers him a bit of excitement to rip him from his hum-drum existence, and he offers her blessed normalcy. Roberts does an excellent job of conveying a woman who would love to simply sit down and have a bad meal with William's oddball family of English eccentrics just because it's what normal people do (the fact that William's family is anything but "normal" is an irony not completely lost).
Notting Hill was written by Richard Curtis, who also wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), the movie that made Hugh Grant an international star seven years ago. Curtis shows the same affinity for offbeat English characters as he did in Four Weddings, none so scene-stealing as William's offish flatmate, Spike (Rhys Ifans), a grungy, uncombed, scrawny Welshman who seems to have no job and no sense of simple hygiene and is indifferent to his permanent case of bedhead. How and why William and Spike ended up living together is never quite explained, but his role in the movie is simple and straightforward: to play the sloppy Oscar to Hugh Grant's reserved Felix. Many of their scenes together are quite funny, and Ifans manages to keep Spike just human enough so that he doesn't get tiresome or irritating as a character.
The movie tends to run somewhat long, and this is partly due to the script. While most romantic storylines have one major plot point that cause the leads to be temporarily separated from each other and create a dilemma that must be solved by the movie's conclusion, Curtis gives us no less than three. All of them are certainly believable, but it sometimes feels like one crisis too many. Old boyfriends, invading paparazzi, overheard comments, reservation about their potential together--all of these are obstacles that get in the way and have to be overcome.
Curtis and director Roger Michell also have the tendency to hold jokes too long. In one scene, William visits Anna at her hotel and finds himself caught in the middle of a press junket for her movie. Pretending to be a journalist from Horse and Hound (he sees the magazine sitting on a table when asked what publication he writes for), William is forced to come up with questions for Anna as if he were a magazine writer. "So ... are there any horses in the movie?" he stutters. "No, since it's set in space," she replies. This scene is quite hilarious in that befuddled, Hugh Grant kind of way, but it keeps going as William is taken around by Anna's publicist to interview each and every actor in the movie. By the third one, his questioning becomes a bit repetitive and the joke loses its steam.
However, Notting Hill is primarily a fairy-tale romance, a fantasy about the free nature of love where anyone can fall in love with anyone else, and in this area it succeeds beautifully. The movie has a basic sweetness that is undeniable--it truly cares for its characters and wants to see them happy in the end. There's not a cynical bone to be found. And, while the conclusion is a somewhat questionable and all-too-conventional wrap-up, it still feels rewarding because the characters have truly been brought to life and we want to see them live happily ever after, no matter what that entails.
The movie's lynchpin is the performance by Julia Roberts, who endows Anna Scott with an underlying sadness that is finally unearthed from beneath her movie star glitz. It's easy to be cynical and think, "Oh, poor movie star, boo-hoo," but Roberts' performance takes us past that to the human Anna, who doesn't really care about money or fame and is tired of having her life scheduled by a publicist. Roberts uses her internationally renowned multi-million-dollar smile poignantly, as it often comes out, tentative and hesitant, in the moments that she is most trying to hide her pain or fear. It gives us the impression that she's used that smile so much in movies and on red carpets that it's almost like learning to walk to use it to express actual emotions in ordinary circumstances. Part of the fairy tale is that William, the mortal, helps Anna not only become, but also desire to be, mortal, as well.
Hugh Grant doesn't stretch his acting chops much; in fact, he basically replays his rumbled every-Brit role from Four Weddings. Still, what better character is there to set in a fantasy where a regular bloke becomes involved with the most famous woman in the world? Grant's stuttering charm and shy sensibilities are exactly what would attract a woman like Anna, who is sick of self-obsessed movie star boyfriends who abuse and neglect her. Sometimes, the movie says in its naive but wonderfully affable manner, gods need mortals.
|Notting Hill: Ultimate Edition Two-Disc DVD Set|
|Aspect Ratio||2.35:1 / 1.33:1|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
DTS 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (DD 5.1, DTS 5.1) |
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director Roger Michell, producer Duncan Kenworthy, and writer Richard Curtis|
Spotlight on Location 15-minute making-of featurette
Seasonal Walk on Portabello Road featurette
Six deleted scenes
Hugh Grant's Movie Tips
Elvis Costello "She" music video
Shania Twain "You've Got a Way" music video
Tonic live performance
Original U.S. and international theatrical trailers
Cast & Filmmaker filmographies
| This two-disc Ultimate Edition features an anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer of Notting Hill on the first disc and a full-frame (1.33:1) transfer on the second disc. The movie was shot on Super 35mm, meaning that director Roger Michell used the entire frame, thus leaving himself room at the top and bottom to recompose for home video. While the full-frame version does lose some picture on the sides, it gains quite a bit on the top and bottom and preserves all of the most important information within the frame (which is crucial in this movie because Michell composed his shots with the widescreen in mind, often placing characters at the farthest edges of the frames where they would surely be cut off in typical pan-and-scan). |
Both transfers are sharp and gorgeous, with beautiful color saturation, natural flesh tones, and excellent detail. Black levels are solid without a hint of grain, and there were no compression artifacts or noticeable edge enhancement to be found.
|Both discs are equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 surround soundtracks, both of which sound excellent. Although, in my opinion, one of the flaws in Notting Hill is its over-reliance on banal pop music to dictate the mood of the scenes, I can't argue with how good those banal pop songs sound in crystal-clear 5.1-channel surround sound. Dialogue sounds natural throughout, and the surround channels are effectively used from time to time to create an ambient environment (such as when Hugh Grant's character is walking down the main street in Notting Hill).|
| Universal has taken the supplements from their previously available "Collector's Edition" version and padded them out with a few more for this "Ultimate Edition." |
One of the best holdovers is the insightful and entertaining screen-specific commentary by director Roger Michell, producer Duncan Kenworthy, and writer Richard Curtis. Recorded together in a single session, they have an easy rapport and obviously worked well together--their collaborative nature is readily apparent on the screen. They are also quite articulate in their ideas, especially Curtis, who is very adroit in discussing his thought processes and how he came to write screenplay.
Also included is the expected Spotlight on Location making-of featurette. Running about 15 minutes in length, it is a little bit better than most run-of-the-mill featurettes, mainly because of the interviews with Michell, Kenworthy, and Curtis, who talk about many of the same things they cover in the commentary. The star interviews are of the typical back-slapping variety, although Julia Roberts has a candid moment when she reveals her first reaction to doing the movie.
The Seasonal Walk on Portabello Road featurette is a three-and-a-half-minute bit about the clever scene that depicts Grant's character walking down the main street in Notting Hill while the seasons change around him to depict the passage of time. This is one of the movie's most visually inventive moments, and the featurette offers some interesting comparison footage shot on location during filming with what actually appears in the movie. Anyone interested in actually visiting Notting Hill should check out The Travel Book, which offers maps of the location and recommendations for shopping and eating.
The six deleted scenes are also held over from the "Collector's Edition." Taken from video masters, they are good scenes that work, but had to be cut for pacing and to cut down the length of the movie (one scene, involving Grant's character talking to his parents, is featured prominently in the theatrical trailers, meaning that is was likely cut late in the game). Among these scenes is one that had been planned at one point to end the movie, and one that is an extension of a scene already included that is very funny, but in the longer version uses a certain word a few too many times and would have moved the movie out of the much-coveted PG-13 territory.
Hugh Grant's Movie Tips is essentially a four-minute comedy routine where Grant takes the spotlight and jokes around with people on set, including a caterer with an odd Australian accent and his own parents. For serious Hugh Grant fans only.
Two theatrical trailers are included in nonanamorphic widescreen, the original U.S. trailer and an international trailer. Music videos for Shania Twain's "You've Got a Way" and Elvis Costello's "She" are also included, as well as music highlights, a photo montage, production notes, and cast and filmmaker bios. DVD-ROM content includes script-to-screen and an archive of the original web site.
Copyright © 1999, 2001 James Kendrick