Universal // 1999 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Rob "Treg" Traegler (Retired) // November 16th, 1999
Unlikely chemistry between two international stars propels this film and turns it into the best romantic comedy to come along since When Harry Met Sally.
Universal seems to be listening to the people with a much deserved semi-loaded special edition of this future classic available at a reduced price compared to their typical $34.98 buyer-questionable releases.
I have to be honest with you -- I avoided this film like the plague this summer amid all the other summer blockbusters. But by the time the credits rolled, I was a teary-eyed mess. And it's not because this is a sad film. Yes, our main character does suffer through bouts of depression and loneliness, but what got to me was how well the makers of this film captured the eternal feelings of new-found love, heartbreak and the lonely desperation one feels when love is just not possible. What initially was only intended to be a rental on my part developed into immediate purchases of the DVD and CD soundtrack.
Having only been a remotely mild fan of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, I was pleasantly surprised at how likable they are in Notting Hill and how well they work together. Everything they do together seems completely plausible. Grant plays William Thacker, owner of a travel bookstore located in the quaint section of Notting Hill in London. We discover that William has always lost at love and has also recently been through an off-camera divorce. Through an opening credit montage set to a beautiful rendition of the song "She" by Elvis Costello, we discover that Roberts is Anna Scott, world-renowned model and film star. One day Anna pops into William's bookstore while on an impromptu shopping spree in London. Through a series of mishaps and coincidences, Anna ends up at William's apartment in Notting Hill to change her clothes (don't ask, I'd rather you discover why). Little by little, they begin to see and date each other, which is detailed in wonderful expository scenes at a press junket, a birthday party and an extremely romantic scene at midnight in a park. For me, the secret to a great romantic comedy is that you, as an audience member, have to fall in love with at least one or two of the main characters over the course of the film. This, for me, is why When Harry Met Sally is an apt comparison. I fell in love with Meg Ryan when I saw that film, and I fell hard for Julia as I watched Notting Hill.
Minor plot twists allow Anna to develop a need for William, and allow him to develop a sincere longing for her. Without giving anything away, you'll be pleasantly surprised at how Notting Hill turns out and if you have a romantic bone in your body, you'll find yourself purchasing this disc as soon as possible. This is one of those films where the characters do exactly what you want them to without the plot becoming predictable. There's also an amazing scene, which depicts the desperate time passage of loneliness set to the perfect choice of the tune "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. You'll need to replay this scene two or three times to figure out how they did it and only when you listen to the commentary track will you discover the filmmaker's secret. In fact, directors Roger Michel so effectively mixes classic and new songs into the film, they essentially become important character themselves.
The supporting performances are top-notch, especially that of Rhys Hans as Spike, William's flatmate. His hilarious, gently aloof performance gives credibility to his character and one completely understands why William would never kick him out despite his constant screw-ups. Emma Chambers also shines as William's daffy sister. Her reaction upon initially meeting Anna Scott in person is priceless.
I have always complained in the past about Universal's $34.98 special edition pricing, but I think they're finally listening to the voices in the DVD world, for they've released this special edition at a list price of $29.98. They're still not down to Warner's and New Line's special edition prices, but I commend them on their effort to please the consumer. I think that when they see the sales returns on this title, they will have a new mindset when pricing their special editions in the future. Notting Hill is truly a Universal special edition in every sense. Included is an insightful commentary track featuring director Roger Michel, producer Duncan Kenworthy and writer Richard Curtis; grainy deleted scenes (unlike most deleted scene features, these clips actually would have worked in the film); Hugh Grant's movie tips; a humorous tour of the set with Hugh; music highlights which let you jump to the scene featuring every great song used in the movie (I mean it, there's not a bad one in the bunch); a Notting Hill Travel Book; production notes; a trailer and several DVD-ROM features.
The disc itself looks fantastic. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the fleshtones and colors are strong and life-like and edge enhancement is near perfect. I couldn't see any evidence of pixelation and the black levels as sparse as they may be, are dead-on. Romantic comedies don't particularly lend themselves to dynamic 5.1 surround sound, so the audio on this disc is basically center-channel specific with occasional surround effects. The very nature of the soundtrack however gives the audio track a boost, thanks to the intelligent song choices by the filmmakers and the songs, when they appear, sound wonderful.
I've always stated that movies are subjective, so if you are currently not in love or spiteful of the opposite sex, you may find this film too sugary for your present state of mind, dismiss it and re-watch The Matrix for the seventh time.
I was completely blown away by how much I liked this film, and I'm finding that most people I recommend it to are coming back to me quite pleased. Now I'm recommending it to you. Do the right thing and fall in love with Notting Hill.
Universal, thanks to their special edition price reduction, gets acquitted on all charges this time out for serving up a wonderful film at a decent price loaded with extras. Thanks for listening Universal; we just want what's best for both of us.
Review content copyright © 1999 Rob "Treg" Traegler; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track with Director Roger Michell, Producer Duncan Kenworthy, and Writer Richard Curtis
* Hugh Grant's Movie Tips
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Highlights
* The Travel Book
* Universal Showcase
* Production Notes
* Cast and Filmmaker's Bios
* Theatrical Trailer
* Behind The Scenes