Monday, October 19, 2020

The Best Movies of My Life: Notting Hill (1999)

I saw Notting Hill at its release date in 1999 and was instantly in love. That was tough for me, as I recall, because I was at the time also at the tail end of a very toxic relationship. I saw the film with that person, but even then its charm won me over.

The plot centers around a bookshop owner, William Thacker (Hugh Grant), who by wild chance is visited by the world's most famous actress, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts).

An unlikely love story unfolds from there, one which, as all stories should, ends with happy or victorious tears. I won't call it a romantic comedy, as most people do, because there is some real drama here as Anna and William learn to negotiate the stormy parameters of their new friendship. I say "friendship" because, in the end, at least for me, that's the most important element in any romantic love story.

The movie also takes a good look at fame, especially in the modern era, and how completely dysfunctional almost all notions of it are. Can love overcome the paparazzi? Can a budding friendship? Can a huge disparity in income and mobility be managed? What does it mean to call somebody a "nobody" because they are not hounded day and night by the world's media? Could such a union be possible in today's world, twenty years later, when the media has become as voracious, poisonous, indeed dangerous as any authoritarian leader?

I recall Roberts saying in an interview not long after the film's release that, for her, in "real" life, such a friendship would not be possible, and that she was glad of it, citing the fact that she loves her fame and does not question it as Anna Scott does. I was dismayed by that answer then, and I am today.

One of the great lines in the film has Thacker telling his roommate that he feels like he took "love heroin" and now is hooked on it (I'm paraphrasing). His sense of helplessness in that moment is very powerful to me. I can feel his futility and longing. I've always been a fairly big Hugh Grant fan, but his role in this movie is, in my opinion, the one that cemented his status with me permanently.

I'm not as big a fan of Julia Roberts', but, like Grant, this film really set the standard as far as her body of work is concerned.

There are many great scenes in this film; this one is arguably my favorite: