US Release Date: August 28, 2007
The Film - out of <font face="Arial[/img]
In the last 15 – 20 years, the number of truly great romantic comedies could probably be counted on one hand. The films that make that list for each of us may be somewhat different, but in general, the films that reach that exquisite status of ‘genuinely funny’, ‘delightfully romantic’ (without being sappy) and ‘deeply charming’ all at once, are a rare indeed.
For me, the list of movies that strike all those chords include The Best Man, When Harry Met Sally, High Fidelity, Punch Drunk Love and Four Weddings and a Funeral. That’s a rather short list, but for me, it holds those rare films that are sweepingly romantic while being laugh-out-loud funny – many times in the same scene or from the same line. And now I have found another gem to add to that list, from the writer of one of the films already mentioned, Richard Curtis. I might be profoundly biased here, having grown up on healthy doses of that man’s humor (Vicar of Dibley and the quintessential British comedy series, Blackadder), but Richard Curtis is one of the most insightfully funny and sharply witty people on the planet. In much the same way that Four Weddings did, Notting Hill achieves something that the swath of dull, predictable and unendingly unfunny romantic comedies spewed forth each year from Hollywood never does, it achieved authenticity. The very best films of this genre are written by people who ‘get it’ – by those who understand the things that can be fantastically funny and richly romantic about the abundantly ordinary. By seeking not to manufacture some ludicrous plot twist or unnecessary invention, Notting Hill accomplishes what the most appealing and long lasting of this genre have – genuine ways to connect the characters with the audience rather than simply put on a show.
Notting Hill may have a ‘grand sounding’ plot, as Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) a major Hollywood Star, meets a lowly travel bookshop owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant) and finds immediate attraction, but it is far more down to earth than it seems. While Anna and William have an undeniable connection, the realities of each of their lives manage to creep in. Just when everything seems perfectly romantic, life gets in the way. Inevitably, the story throws the couple some hurdles to deal with, but the intriguing strength of Notting Hill is demonstrated by every word that Richard Curtis wrote for them. The script can be filled with pithy wit, funny oddness and delightfully verbose mini-speeches, all the while matching the warmth and reality of the story. The film also stands on the strength from the befuddling English charm of Hugh Grant. He babbles on a little less than his character in Four Weddings did, but still enough to melt hearts across the globe. Playing opposite him, Julia Roberts appears calm, sweet and very lost in well balanced doses. Her character is quite peripheral for the first half of the film, even though she influences almost everything that happens there.
The supporting cast is quite brilliant also, with Rhys Ifans standing out as Hugh Grant’s absurdly uncouth Welsh flat mate. Matthew Modine and Alec Baldwin also show up in some interesting roles.
Notting Hill is very British, very romantic and very funny. It contains a delicious amount of quirky moments and a wonderful blend of silly and serious dialogue that help it instantly become more enjoyable than just about every other entry in the genre. The role reversal element, with Hugh Grant being swept off his feet by Julia Roberts’ powerful and popular movie star is another ingredient of the film that elevates it above the others.
Notting Hill is undeniably real. The emotional challenges of being blindsided by someone who captivates your heart and mind; finding a ‘surreal but nice’ sense of happiness before the rug is pulled from under you, then dusting yourself off and moving on, is well explored. As these characters recover from their experiences with a fragile sense of hope – the script poignantly describes what that can be like, aided by fine performances. Romantic Comedies will rarely surprise you with an ending you cannot predict, so it is always the path that must be original and excellently executed rather than a twist in the destination. This film manages that requirement exceptionally well. For me personally, the standout scene in the film; the moment that screams of heartbreaking reality, comes when William Thacker politely provides Anna Scott with a ‘no’ as they stand in his travel shop. As Anna responds and leaves, you can see that the film has really hit the mark and that Julia Roberts is every bit the superstar actress and Richard Curtis, every bit the man with the golden pen.
Wow. Universal Studios presents Notting Hill in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p High Definition and the image is darn near flawless. The transfer looks incredibly natural with superb detail, especially in the close-ups, and it has gorgeous black levels. This is a transfer of consistently high quality. Only one or two slightly soft moments and a couple of dust specs on the print take the score down half a notch, but this really is quite the stellar transfer of a great catalogue title.
Notting Hill comes with an English Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound, and generally speaking, the audio quality is not up to par with the image. While there is some good clarity to the audio, especially with the clean dialogue, the audio is very front focused. The musical score doesn’t come sweeping through the speakers but the songs seem to be a little too loud at times, almost distractingly so. There is warmth to the audio, but the surrounds don’t do much to envelope the viewer and, as such, slightly disappoints.
Feature Commentary with Director Roger Michell, Producer Duncan Kenworthy and Writer Richard Curtis : – This occasionally wry and often funny commentary track provides a good mix of personal anecdotes from the making of the film, with insight into the character and casting choices. Sometimes the commentators seem to get caught up in watching the film with us, but they impart plenty of good information on how this story was brought to life.
Spotlight On Location : – (14:47) – This is a nice little promo ‘behind the scenes’ bit featuring interviews with the some of the cast, the director, producer and writer. The cast interviews are light and sweet but the Richard Curtis provides the most enlightening moments.
Seasonal Walk on Portobello Road : – (3:29) – One of the most ambitious shots in the film is a solitary walk down Portobello road by Hugh Grant as the season changes behind him. This nice shot, an interesting way to show the passage of time, involved mostly on-set organization. This piece could definitely have been delved into deeper, but the split screen showing behind the scenes footage alongside the final shot is a nice touch.
Deleted Scenes : – (12:21) – Six deleted scenes, mostly hilarious, could have served the film nicely and were most likely cut for time or pacing. But there are some really funny ones here.
Photo Montage : – (4:41) – Now this is the way to do it. Normally, production photos made available as a special feature must be navigated through with the remote, but here, they are collected into a slideshow with Trevor Jones’ great score as accompaniment.
US Trailer : – (2:48)
International Trailer : – (2:08)
Hugh Grant’s Movie Tips : – (4:16) – A silly but funny four minutes with Hugh Grant meandering the set, pestering the crew and making jokes. Proof that the man, who has succeeded nicely in comedic roles, is just as funny as many of his characters.
Elvis Costello “She” Music Video :
Shania Twain “You’ve Got A Way” Music Video :
The Travel Book : – This feature contains a few blurbs about the merchants in the Notting Hill area and tips on traveling there.
Many have said that the romantic comedy genre has suffered in recent years, with less and less content being produced for the multiplexes; and what eventually makes it to our local theaters doesn’t pull people in quite like it used to. That seems to be true, but I think rather than the proliferation of programming on terrestrial and cable stations being the culprit, the content itself is the main causal factor. The genre seems to be in an anemic state, lacking the kind of script and scenarios that speak to us, the audience. Notting Hill is quite possibly the best template at the moment for what can be done to revive the failing genre. A plot the simmers rather than boils, situations that are more everyday than sitcom fodder, and dialogue that is a capsule of real, funny and brimming with romanticism without being heavy with sap and predictability. Thank You Richard Curtis for ‘getting it’!