NOTTING HILL

By Marc S. Sanders

Notting Hill written by Richard Curtis (Love, Actually) and directed by Roger Michell is a pleasant surprise of a romantic comedy. It’s not a perfect film but it certainly loves every one of its quirky supporting characters, as well as its two straight romantic leads played by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.

Grant plays Will Thacker who lives in the Notting Hill district of London where every proprietor is a charming little shop of some form or other; a quaint street where merchants appear on the sidewalks during the weekends selling their art or homemade jams or coffee products. Will owns a travel book shop located across the street from his flat that is whimsically recognized by its big blue front door. His wife left him for another man and now he’s relegated himself to living with a roommate called Spike (character actor Rhys Ifans doing a British equivalent of Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld’s neighbor).

One day the superstar celebrity Anna Scott (Roberts) simply strolls into Will’s store. They have a quiet moment and he sells her a travel book about Turkey that he didn’t recommend she purchase. Moments later they run into each other down the street when Will spills orange juice all over Anna. From there, a meet cute relationship begins to unfold. It’s not so simple for the pair though as Anna’s enormous celebrity is hard to negotiate; hard for Anna, not hard for Will.

Anna is at ease when she can have a quiet dinner to celebrate Will’s sister’s birthday with his friends or when she can escape her turbulent life of gossip magazines and paparazzi by taking shelter at Will’s flat, even if grungy looking Spike walks in on her taking a bath.

I like Notting Hill. However, the quiet moments shared between Grant and Roberts sometimes carry on too long. Oh my gosh!!!! Will someone say something already????? Hugh Grant has made characters that trip over their words and stumble with what to say into a master craft. Julia Roberts is one actress that a camera loves especially when she’s distressed. A crying moment in any one of her films will milk the scene for every blush, or glassy eye or tear and whisper she can offer. She’s a terrifically skilled actress in almost any film she does. Eventually, we have to move on from all of this though. My patience for some scenes were just running way too long for me at times. Kiss already!!!! Make love already!!!! Scream at each other already!!!!

Fortunately, there’s much escape to be had with the supporting cast, especially Ifans as Spike who is the most absent minded, lovable, dirty underwear wearing and sloppy prig imaginable. Emma Chambers is just as fetching with her scarlet pigtailed haircut as Will’s sister, Honey. Tim McInnery, Gina McKee, James Dreyfus and Hugh Bonneville round out this madcap collection. The birthday dinner party is a great scene for this ensemble as a comedic but relaxed chemistry blends nicely during a competition to see who is suffering the most to earn the last brownie on the dessert plate. The group is unsure how to include a movie star like Anna in their simplicity but Julia Roberts pulls off a trick that even had me fooled. Simply put, for the whole cast, there’s just that much more life and vibrancy when they are all together and it’s not just relegated to only Roberts and Grant in a scene.

Another special moment occurs later when the couple have split up once again. To depict time fleeting by, Roger Michell offers up a transition of Will wearing one outfit but walking through the hustle and bustle of Notting Hill as the weather and seasons seamlessly change all around him from sunlight to rain to snow and spring sunlight again. You even get a glimpse of Honey starting a flirtatious relationship at the beginning of the sequence and by the time it’s over a minute later Honey is breaking up with the guy. It’s a wonderful moment of wordless narration to show Will’s struggle with moving on as time continues to pass by. More importantly, it allows the titled setting to be a character of its own. This is a great example of showing a lovesick character unable to move on while life has no patience to wait for him to catch up.

I like Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts whether it’s in Notting Hill or one of their many other fine movies. I can’t deny the chemistry they have in this film. It works. I only wanted a little more life to the material that was handed to them. Still, Notting Hill is charming and simply a very sweet romantic comedy.

LOVE, ACTUALLY

By Marc S. Sanders

Love, Actually is like a warm favorite blanket to snuggle up in. Richard Curtis writes and directs a collection of the greatest British actors (along with American Laura Linney) in a kaleidoscope of love and relationships against the backdrop of beautiful London, England during the five weeks leading up to Christmas.

I won’t list my favorite characters or actors. In a film this treasured, this loved and this appreciated, that would be like picking your favorite child. It’s impossible when every single storyline is perfectly executed with thought and tenderness.

The stories of love uncovered, love that’s lost, love based in friendship, and love drowning in heartache beautifully jump from one to the next and then back again. Curtis is wise to not show all of the facets of each story early on. Some stories reveal more about themselves later that’ll leave you hurting for those that are not so merry and those that offer plenty of cheer.

I’m especially happy that Curtis did not compromise in the language or subject matter of his tales. Strong language at times makes for some memorable dialogue and nudity presents a normality to how we really are with those we have affections for.

It’s fair to say everyone in life experiences some variation of love. Yes! I mean everyone. Richard Curtis reminds you that love is a natural instinct, and so we can not focus on the easily recognized gloom of our world. To have these stories captured around Christmas time only enhances what we treasure, or what we wish we didn’t have to endure at times. Curtis’ blazing soundtrack helps along the way.

Love is hard. Love is challenging. Love will sweep you off your feet and love will destroy everything you thought you had. However, love will never leave you with complete regret. It’s never the love we have for someone that we regret. It’s only a wish to have it wholesome, healthy, happy and pure.

Love, Actually is all around.