"Julia Roberts and Romantic Comedies - A Can't Miss"
Notting Hill (***) – Julia Roberts should be told to make nothing but romantic comedies for the rest of her career. If you look at her track record, how many of her dramatic performances do you real remember and of those that you remember, how many did you real like other than perhaps Stepmom and Steel Magnolias. Mary Reilly, Michael Collins, The Pelican Brief, Sleeping with the Enemy, Dying Young, Something to Talk About, and Conspiracy Theory. Any of those performances truly Oscar-worthy or really any good. Now the romantic comedies. Mystic Pizza, Pretty Woman, My Best Friend’s Wedding, and now, Notting Hill, which is one of her best.During the film I couldn’t help but notice at how often I was genuinely laughing. The movie is very funny and that humor truly overcomes most of the quibbles I have with the screenplay. There is literally a laugh every few minutes in this film and makes a wonderful time at the movies even if it is about 15 minutes too long. My main problem with the screenplay however is obviously not the intelligent nature of most of the dialogue but that it doesn’t take enough time to set up the fact that the Julia Roberts character (albeit basically playing herself) is such a well-known movie star other than the opening credit montage. Other than that it’s basically just reduced to people asking for autographs and being in awe of her presence. Despite her top billing. Julia really is the second fiddle in what is essentially the story of Hugh Grant’s character. I kept thinking of The American President and the brilliance of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay which so carefully set up the fact that Michael Douglas was President that we accepted it as if it were a fact. That film also went deep into exploring why a President would have so much trouble publicly dating. Notting Hill has scenes like that, but they seem more like throwaways – obligatory scenes that we expect but aren’t really explored in depth. The movie is also trying to play both sides of reality and fantasy. Most romantic comedies by nature are entertaining fantasies where we assume and most of the time expect our lovelorn couple to get together in the end – but by setting the film with realistic overtones – it takes the risk of just being plain phony. However, we grant the film its premise and the power of the chemistry between Roberts and Grant instantly draws us in and never lets go even if they do have to go through Screenplay 101 where an obligatory break-up scene must be written in somewhere down the line – in this case a very distracting one as where I understood part of her paranoid reaction – I didn’t buy the way she treats Grant after all they had been through. It’s a complete 180 from the whole reason she fell for him in the first place. Another early scene depicts a fun cameo from a famous actor whom will remain nameless here. It’s fun to see him in the movie – yet the movie doesn’t really identify him until later. During the one scene he’s in – we’re not sure if he’s supposed to be playing himself or just a version of himself and that gives one pause during those five minutes.These setbacks aside I had a great time seeing this film Saturday night. The chemistry is right, the screenplay is another winner from the writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral, who fills the story with numerous likable supporting characters and more single laughs than any film released so far this year. Hopefully Julia Roberts will make a note of it.