29 Days of Romance, Review #21: Notting Hill (1999)

29 Days of Romance, Review #21: Notting Hill (1999)
Notting Hill poster
IMDb

Directed by: Roger Mitchell. Starring: Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Rhys Ifans.  Runtime: 2h, 4 min. Released: May 28, 1999.

Man, I totally love Notting Hill. Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is the biggest movie star in the world and visits Notting Hill, a small district in West London, where she walks into a travel bookshop owned by William Thacker (Hugh Grant).These two characters are from very different world and the film handles that in intriguing ways.

It’s a romance about love being put off until the timing is right. Anna is an interesting character in how she handles her overwhelming fame, jokingly insecure that people will eventually figure out she can’t act. Roberts plays the persona perfectly, as she tries to be a normal person but she’s unable to be because her face is truly everywhere.

Thacker offers an escape into an everyday normalcy she craves, where there are no flashing cameras everywhere. When the flashing cameras find their way into William’s world, she’s frustrated the worlds collide because it could hurt her image.

It’s a conflict that rings true because of her character and writer Richard Curtis builds these characters well. This is a great romance that is at its best when Roberts and Grant share the screen, though they’re often apart throughout. Their chemistry is so strong and I prefer a film like this over another film I reviewed this month, Pretty Woman, because I like both Anna and William here as characters. I don’t like Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman that much and I think William Thacker feels authentic here.

Notting Hill article
Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. (IMDb)

Notting Hill is also much more about Thacker’s world and existence in Notting Hill, where Anna comes in as a glorified, and at first surreal, guest. Anna Scott is this huge movie star and it takes some getting used to for the characters in this much smaller world, and that’s played for comedy, especially when she accompanies William to his sister’s birthday dinner. While at this dinner, Bernie (Hugh Bonneville) doesn’t realize he’s talking to Anna Scott and learns this when they all gossip while she’s gone to the bathroom.

These supporting players help make this film great and the dinner party is one of the best scenes here. The best moment of this scene here is when the worst cook in the world, Max (Tim McInnerny) has cooked them something. Bella (Gina McKee), Max’s wife, asks, “What do you think of the guinea-fowl?” Anna replies, “I’m a vegetarian.” When Max asks how she likes it, she says, “Best guinea-fowl I’ve ever tasted.” Bella looks at Anna like she’s different, and that she could be different for William, too, and be the one to make him happy.

It’s an endearing moment that also shows Anna’s humanity: A big star like that could demand anything, but she does not. She wants to be just another person and the film goes to great lengths that we see that, but not in a convoluted way. The film’s enchanting as it plays Ronan Keating’s “When You Say Nothing At All” (recorded specifically for the film) and Anna just smiles, basks in the moment, content to enjoy herself and not be the centre of attention.

Notting Hill, Roberts
Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. (IMDb)

By the time she gets to the famous line, “I’m just a girl… standing in front of a boy… asking him to love her,” we know she wants the life of an everyday person, but this just hits it home. With a scene like this and how charming she is throughout; it also just proves that I’ll fall in love with Julia Roberts all over again every time I watch this. Mind you, Hugh Grant makes this just as great, and I adore this pairing. I’ve only seen this film once, but I can see myself re-watching it often.

By the way, the best supporting star here isn’t even at that dinner and that’s Rhys Ifans as William’s flatmate Spike. He’s a complete dimwit but Ifans plays him perfectly and he is one of the funniest aspects about the film.

The film in general is wonderfully directed by Roger Mitchell, and Richard Curtis’ screenplay is brilliant. After this and Love Actually, he’s one of my favourite writers. He’s also the writer of 2013’s About Time, which is one of my favourite films of the 2010’s. His writing shines even when it’s simple, as there is always charm. The comedy and romance in Notting Hill is just so well-written, making it one of my favourite films from my 29 Days of Romance so far.

Score: 90/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)

29 Days of Romance, Review #17: Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually poster
IMDb

Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Hugh Grant, Martine McCutcheon, Emma Thompson. Runtime: 2h 15 min. Released: November 14, 2003 (original US release date).

Love Actually follows the lives of eight different couples dealing with their love lives in various ways in loosely interrelated tales set during a frantic month before Christmas in London, England.

This is a Christmas classic that I haven’t seen until now, and it’s probably weird to review a Christmas movie in mid-February, but it’s a romance film, too, so I’m doing it anyway. Thankfully this is a film that I loved (I’m thankful for that because yesterday’s Across the Universe was a doozy).

Richard Curtis’ writing and great direction handles all the tales well and for the most part, they all feel like they have balance. They’re all connected in some way and that makes the world building more interesting, though you’ll need a map to remember how each person and each couple relates to each other. I also couldn’t list the couples and their stories without looking at the cast list.

Love Actually article
Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually. (IMDb)

What works best about Love Actually is that it’s just a feel-good Christmas movie about love and taking risks around the holiday season. Some sub-plots are problematic, like the voyeuristic Mark (Andrew Lincoln), who’s in love with best friend Peter’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) new wife Juliet (Keira Knightley). While you should take risks for love around Christmas, this whole sub-plot is the weakest of them all. Ejiofor is a great actor who gets very little to do here, and the only scene of worth in their tale is the “All You Need is Love” bit at their wedding.

The pacing in Love Actually is generally strong, but I think this is the only tale that I could justify taking out of the film so we can spend more time with the better characters. The only other tale I could try to make an argument for editing out is Colin Frissell (Kris Marshall), who can’t find love and think his problem is the fact that he’s just so basic in England, so he sets out for America to find a love there. I could make an argument for taking it out because it’s one-note, but there are also a couple of good belly laughs and cameos here and has some smart humour from Richard Curtis.

Otherwise, everyone else’s story feels justified here. I really liked the tale with Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz) as I thought the language barrier was handled in a very creative way. Him staying in a cabin and their romance blossoming the way it does feels like it does a Nicholas Sparks movie better than Nicholas Sparks.

I loved the tale with the Prime Minster (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), because that’s funny from the start and these two tales seem to get the most screen time. Their romance was also just generally engaging.  I really loved Emma Thompson’s character in this one, Karen, who is a main connector of some of these tales as she’s dealing with her husband Harry (Alan Rickman).

Love Actually, article1
Martine McCutcheon and Hugh Grant in Love Actually. (IMDb)

I don’t mean to be boring just listing each tale and saying what I like about them, but it’s hard to talk about the charming Love Actually without going through its romances. It’s interesting how it depicts non-romances too, like a singer Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) who’s trying to be the No. 1 Holiday song with his new release “Christmas Is All Around,” which is super catchy. His tale is hilarious and it’s a lot about his friendship with his manager Joe (Gregor Fisher). The film also has a smart tale about young love with Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), who’s trying to get the attention of a girl at his school. His father Daniel (Liam Neeson) has also just recently lost his wife, so that’s an enriching part of his character.

That’s the thing with Love Actually, these characters all feel well-developed in their own ways and for the most part, they’re all likable. Rowan Atkinson is a notable scene-stealer as Rufus, a jewelry salesman, and I would have loved to have known more about him. My expectations were met with this film because it made me laugh a lot and I cried, too.

There’s one couple here that I’ve never heard anyone talk about and that’s the romance between John (Martin Freeman) and Judy (Joanna Page). They’re stand-ins for a porn film – so if people only see this on TV that’s why they don’t talk about it – and their awkward dialogue during their “scenes” are really funny. Love Actually is just generally funny, too, and I feel like it’s solid Christmas entertainment that could be viewed outside of the Christmas season, because it’s just about love, happiness and family and that’s nice year-round.

Score: 80/100

About Time (2013)

About TimeReleased: November 1, 2013. Directed by: Richard Curtis. Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy. Runtime: 123 min.

“About Time” is not one’s average romantic film. It might have some of the same messages, but most don’t involve time travel. The story involves Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who, on his 21st birthday, learns that he has the ability to travel in time, like all of the men in his family before him. He decides to use his new-found ability to score a girlfriend, because he’s always known his life will be about love. Though, when time travel is involved – and especially when love is involved – nothing is ever so easy.

The way the awkward but charming Tim goes about wooing Mary (Rachel McAdams) is clever. He first meets her at one of those blind dining dates, where it’s like a blind date and it’s completely in the dark. He hits it off with her, but when his funny roommate Harry (Tom Hollander, as a character who is funny but often has one of those “everything bad happens to me” attitudes) has a professional crisis, Tim goes back in time and in turn doesn’t meet Mary; so he must meet her in other ways, in very funny ways, I might add.

The time travel plays a big role in the film but it’s light and easy to follow, mostly because the characters don’t have to worry about the butterfly effect. Of course, time travel comes with surprises and secrets, but I won’t spoil them. It’s refreshing when time travel is simple because sometimes it gets too complicated, and it would simply bring the whole film down tonally. The characters can only time travel to where they have been at that exact moment, and if they want to go somewhere else, they’d have to run there and couldn’t conveniently go straight there. Tim’s father (Bill Nighy) comedically explains it by saying “you cannot go back in time and kill Hitler.” The film is also light on entertainment from time to time, but it never let my attention wander once; perhaps because the characters keep viewers quite interested in the movie.

Tim’s a great character. He’s a selfless one, too, because he cares dearly about his family and will go back in time to help them. He would also do it for his friends, and, of course, himself. The only thing he uses time travel for is to avoid embarrassing situations, or edit his life to make things better. His time travel adventures are hysterical and charming. Time travel makes him make difficult decisions – but it also enables him to have privileges no one else does. Domhnall Gleeson delivers a heartwarming and natural performance. Tim is just an average guy with an extraordinary secret, and a very awesome family.

Bill Nighy is Arthur, Tim’s father who teaches him life lessons – like many other fathers, and who touches people with his great kindess. There’s an eccentric uncle – Desmond (Richard Cordery) who is very forgetful. Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) is Tim’s sister, someone who faces struggles in life because of her relationships with people. The mother (Lindsay Duncan) is a character who doesn’t have a lot of depth, but she doesn’t have to because this is much more of a tale of fathers and sons. There’s really nothing quite like the relationship a father and son share, is there? That’s what makes this film have such a big heart, and this has the ability to touch everyone’s soul – and I really wanted to call my dad after I saw this film.

Since Rachel McAdams has a new haircut for her character she looks much more like a simple beauty, but she is still very charming and a great choice to play the leading lady. She wants what is best for her family and the actress is great at what she’s called to do, like portraying emotions with her eyes and like walking down the aisle to the sound of Jimmy Fallon’s “Il Mondo, in one hell of an aisle walk. It’s also a great movie soundtrack, so that’s a real bonus.

This movie family is natural and seems like everyone else’s, and each character gets their moment to shine. This is a truly wonderful and lovely film that makes viewers care about all of the characters. It teaches that you should cherish all of the little moments and make the best out of everything; and live everyday like it’s the last day of your life, and it’s the last day you’ll see those you’ll love. It’s a very relatable message and a well-thought out one by Richard Curtis, who also wrote such romantic hits as “Love Actually” and “Notting Hill.” This is just such an unforgettable celebration of life, and it highlights the struggles of life, which one can overcome, but also focuses on the true joy of life, marriage and family.

I think this film is a big success because there’s never a dull moment, and I let it willingly take my emotions on a roller coaster. I was either smiling or I felt like I had a big emotional lump in my throat. That just says the film is powerful, if you ask me. It’s hilarious and it didn’t feel like two hours at all, which is great. It cleverly avoids clichés and I never felt the need to start mocking it when it gets too sappy, which is an effect the majority of romantic films have on me; including a somewhat similar film also starring Rachel McAdams called “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” This film made me forget about my notepad and I got lost in the experience of it all.

Score100/100