Notting Hill (1999) Directed by Roger Michell
As we finished watching Notting Hill on Sunday night, the news was about to break of the death of Osama bin Laden. What a weird world we live in. It's hard not to feel cynical about bin Laden's death. An eye for an eye and all that. The quick disposing of the body (fuel for conspiracy theorists), no trial for bin Laden to face, a USA election campaign around the corner, Pakistan now taking the flack – martyrdom is waiting for bin Laden. I'm half expecting a new video tape to appear with bin Laden declaring he's alive after all. In a world where imagined WMD are a cause for invasion, forgive me for asking if bin Laden really existed. His death was as ghostly as his life. I could try to think of a witty way to link this to Notting Hill, unfortunately, there isn't a way. Just musing.
I've seen this film at least a dozen times. It's the kind of movie you want when your mind can't deal with anything demanding. But recently I've realized I always expect a certain level of demanding, even in the trash I watch. Richard Curtis hit comedy gold as the writer for the excellent Blackadder, the OK but dated Four Weddings and a Funeral and finally achieving genius with Love Actually (which he also directed). Notting Hill sits somewhere in the middle of Four Weddings...and Love Actually. It has some genuinely funny scenes, a decent Hugh Grant performance and the imperious Rhys Ifans who totally steals the film. A big minus point is Julia Roberts. Yes, she's OK pretty much playing herself, but her character is so unsympathetic. She's a classier version of the character played by Andie Macdowell in Four Weddings...but you do wonder what Grant's foppish sensitive soul sees in her. Not credible.
This is also Notting Hill from the pre-1950's Britain. Multiculturalism has not arrived in this version of Notting Hill. It's so fucking white. Director Michell also delves in the shadowy depths of sentimentality that so often afflicts this kind of rom-com. Throw in some choice Ronan Keating on the soundtrack and it's time to reach for the sick bucket. Admittedly, the use of Al Green and Bill Withers on the other hand are inspired. This is so close to comedy gold at times, and I'm sure my view of Notting Hill is stretched this time round by over familiarity. I'm sure the next time I'm feeling completely vacuous, I'll dig it out again.
Films from the year 1999 are special for me because that's the year I traveled alone to the USA for the first time with my pink-covered first solo demos in the suitcase. I was going to be an exchange student in Michigan. I would be one of those exchange students who had to endure high school while in their head they were an artist waiting to be discovered like Cinderella. The point is, I was convinced I was special. Kind of like Julia Roberts playing Anna Scott, while really being Julia Roberts. I felt like somebody who was Someone, although currently hiding in the local Waldorf high school.
In Notting Hill Anna Scott went hiding in a travel book store owner's home. And Julia Roberts went hiding in the role of Anna Scott, although it must have felt a little confusing and too revealing at times. Her whole role is based on the audience leaking into viewing her as Julia, the Pretty Woman. What's shocking this time around is that Anna's style, shades, bags, leather jacket, everything looks so awfully dated. Was 1999 really still that 90s-like stylistically? Was this still a time before Sex and The City (the TV series, not the damned movies) inflicted a fashion and style requirement (like a straitjacket) on every actress in every film produced? The Julia Roberts of Eat, Pray Love (2010) looks much more polished and controlled than here. It is as if in the years between then and now she has honed herself into a product.
Anna Scott in Notting Hill is not a reliable and nice person. She's a spoiled selfish famous person who is used to evaluating others by how much they can help her to remain invisible and hidden from the media. The film gives no justification for William Thacker's unconditional love for her. Other than that he is simply star-struck. Why am I almost weeping at the end when Anna lies on a park bench and her hippie dress reveals a 6-month bump? I guess these times are hard and to naively believe in love and transformation for a couple of hours a day is necessary. I have learned that happiness comes from being less analytical sometimes.