Judge Brendan Babish liked Notting Hill better the first time he saw it, when it was called Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Our review of Notting Hill, published November 16th, 1999, is also available.
Can the most famous film star in the world fall for just an ordinary guy?
After their hugely successful Four Weddings and a Funeral, writer Richard Curtis re-teamed with his sputtering muse Hugh Grant on Notting Hill, another romantic comedy about an easily flustered Brit pursuing a seemingly unattainable American woman.
Facts of the Case
William Thacker (Grant) is an ordinary man who owns a travel bookshop in London's ultra-trendy Notting Hill district. One afternoon he has a chance encounter with Anna Scott (Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich), a beautiful American woman who just happens to be one of the most famous actors on the planet. Anna quickly falls for William's uneasy charm, and finds herself accompanying him to dinner parties and sleeping over.
But of course, dating an international superstar is not easy. In addition to the trials and tribulations of a normal relationship, Anna has secrets, skeletons in her closet, and an invasive press that doesn't let up. Will these two overcome all the obstacles and end up together? Or will William just be another Lyle Lovett-like lark in Anna Scott's past?
Notting Hill is not a sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral, but more of a retread. Hugh Grant is essentially reprising his role as that movie's protagonist, Charles; Julia Roberts takes over the part of American love interest (originally played by Andie MacDowell); and Rhys Ifans' uncouth Spike fill the role of off-beat roommate and comic relief (originally played by Charlotte Colemen).
In addition to general character tropes, Notting Hill also ends up featuring some of the same themes and plot conventions of its predecessor. In fact, if Richard Curtis hadn't written Notting Hill, I'm pretty sure he would sue the filmmakers for plagiarizing his earlier movie.
Now that said, I am a big fan of Four Weddings and a Funeral. For a traditional romantic comedy, it's got a lot of moxie, with generous amounts of invectives and ribald humor. Like most retreads, Notting Hill suffers from the law of diminishing returns: its humor is a little less pointed, the characters a little less original, and of course, the story, which was already pretty tired by the time in Four Weddings and a Funeral, is downright exhausted in Notting Hill—although Notting Hill does get some credit for making Anna Scott a world famous actress as opposed to merely a high-class socialite.
However, the character of Anna Scott suffers, like her Weddings doppelganger, from being underwritten. Though Anna is the superstar in the relationship, ironically William is the more interesting character. Not only goes Grant imbue him with the endearing, bumbling charm that is the actor's stock in trade, but William is also the vulnerable one in the relationship. Anna might be a nervous wreck herself, but we barely see her sweat; Roberts plays every scene with a detached coolness. Though this guardedness is probably appropriate for the part, it forces the audience to only empathize further with William, who already has all the natural advantages—being that he is the wittier and friendlier of the two.
Still, because Four Weddings and a Funeral is such a first-rate film, this warmed over second helping is still pretty good. Roberts may be bland, but she supplies the requisite star power, Grant is delightful, and the eccentric cast of supporting characters scores some great laughs. Notting Hill may be short on originality and depth, but it is light and charming and a date movie that is nearly painless to endure.
Notting Hill in HD DVD is presented in a 1080p/VC-1 video that actually does justice to a film that is surprisingly picturesque for a romantic comedy. The London location looks vibrant with bright, with vivid colors and strong contrasts. The fleshtones are also particularly strong, though in the case of Ifans this is somewhat a liability.
As one would imagine, there is little on the film's soundtrack to show off its Dolby Digital Plus surround track. The musical soundtrack is soft and airy with Elvis Costello's evocative ballad, "She," its most prominent feature. My only complaint is that the rear speakers could have been better employed during the scenes showing London's afternoon bustle.
The extras on the HD DVD combine those provided on both the film's original DVD release and those on Universal's second printing, the so-called "Ultimate Edition." All in all, that's a lot of extras. Many of them are slight, such as a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes. The only one of these worth watching is "Hugh Grant's Movie Tips," an irreverent, instructional video documentary on how to be a movie star. There are also two music videos, and "The Travel Book," a tourist guide to sites shown in the film.
One of the more substantial extras is 10 minutes of deleted scenes. There's some decent stuff with Spike here, and a dropped subplot featuring William getting fixed up with a new girl. There is also a commentary track with director Roger Mitchell (Venus), screenwriter Curtis, and producer Duncan Kenworthy. The highlight of this was Curtis describing the difficulties in creating an original formulaic romance. I wouldn't say he totally succeeded, but still a worthy effort.
This is a film so light, airy, and enjoyable I have trouble imagining anyone could dislike it. However, it's also unoriginal and bland enough that I don't many people love it, either. Still, if you are a fan of Notting Hill, this is an essential HD DVD to add to your collection.
If a writer copies himself, can he still be convicted of plagiarism? I'm inclined to think not, otherwise Woody Allen would be doing a life sentence. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director Roger Mitchell, Producer Duncan Kenworthy, and Writer Richard Curtis
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