Notting Hill Review

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A Portobello Road bookshop owner's life changes forever when a Hollywood film star walks into his life.


Notting Hill, while falling just short of the Four Weddings benchmark, still makes for solid, crowd-pleasing entertainment, with its delightful array of one-liners, quirky sidekicks and a central couple who fall in and out of love with alarming speed. As much an ode to the hip West London suburb as it is Cinderella-story romcom, Portobello Road should brace itself for an influx of the American tourists who will obviously lap up the landmarks on view.

Grant is William Thacker, owner of a vaguely unsuccessful travel book store, divorced, and living in his former marital home with a rodent-like half-breed called Spike (Twin Town's Ifans on top, scene-stealing form). Life seems relatively normal until Anna Scott (Roberts), the world's most famous film star, visits the shop - and falls for Thacker's foppish Brit charms. But the path of true love runs even less smooth than usual, given that it's littered with intrusive press photographers, unexpected film star boyfriends and, of course, the matter of the human hedgehog flatmate, whose actions may very well result in trouble. This is achingly familiar territory: aesthetically-pleasing flats (how do these people afford them?), stiff-upper-lipped Brit humour, and a bunch of comedy mates to rally round our protagonist in times of need.

As wish fulfilment fantasy, Notting Hill is pretty hard to beat. And as romantic comedy, it stomps all over the anaemic efforts that have been populating screens of late. Grant has matured from a bumbling, pompous buffoon into the kind of leading man you actually end up rooting for. Roberts, meanwhile, is so radiant as the film star trying desperately to convince her new beau she's "just a girl standing in front of a girl asking her to love him" that it's as if this was the role she was born to play.

If Curtis' sharply funny script has a flaw, it comes in trying to make a serious point about media intrusion and the boundaries of privacy. Although it's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for Anna Scott when her every mistake, including one particularly embarrassing past revelation, is splashed across the tabloids, hearing her bleat about having to live a life of dieting and perfection (while earning $15 million a movie, poor thing) smacks of naivety on the part of a major Hollywood star - surely someone this famous would realise such attention comes with the territory?

Still, it doesn't detract from the feelgood element of the movie, the scintillating chemistry between Roberts and Grant, the refreshing lack of a Wet Wet Wet theme song, or some splendid set pieces.

In a world of effects-laden, big-budget summer events, Curtis, Kenworthy and Grant have hit upon the magic formula once again, proving that sometimes it's the simple, unfussy entertainment that comes off best. Expect a lot of people to go home very happy.