Notting Hill ★★★★★

On a recent vacation with our neighbours, we spent a few days in London, and during that time we took them to the Portobello Road Market. While we strolled the shops and stalls, I pointed out two Notting Hill landmarks, The Travel Bookshop ( now a tacky souvenir shop - I went inside and thought about asking if they have a book about Istanbul ... but I figured the current proprietors wouldn't get it ) and The Blue Door. Neither of them had seen the film, so I knew we’d have to show it to them upon our return as a rather nice bookend to us watching 84 Charing Cross Road ( we were staying in Charing Cross Road ) before we left for the trip. ( In a trip filled with many amazing coincidences, I found a first edition of 84 Charing Cross Road at one of the used book stalls in the market )

I’ve seen Notting Hill a number of times throughout the years, and always liked it, but this watch really elevated it for me; in fact, I’d dare say it’s now just a hair behind my favourite Rom Com, Sleepless in Seattle.

Normally, it would the dazzling smile and kind, laughing eyes of Julia Roberts that would steal a Rom Com away from any leading man, but in Notting Hill, Hugh Grant’s boyish grin and kind but sad eyes win the day. His shy, almost nebbish persona set against the confident, but crowd-plagued, superstar Anna Scott is the perfect balance to make this gender reversed Cinderella re-imagining work so brilliantly well. Our hearts go out to Grant’s lovelorn simple bookseller, Will Thacker. Of course, the script was crafted that way, but Julia Roberts is exceedingly generous here, always mindful of keeping the focus on Grant’s character and keeping her rendition of Anna to only what’s necessary to service Will Thacker’s story.

Director Roger Michell and Writer Richard Curtis expertly create and execute a wonderful, fully drawn, cast of supporting characters to flesh out Will Thacker’s world. Family get-together's are entirely realistic and familiar. The stand-out, though, is Will’s daft flatmate, Spike, played with incredible adeptness by Rhys Ifans. Honestly, I had a ‘Spike’ for an infuriating-but-somehow-not-unlikable roommate back in the day, and Ifans nailed it.

It’s rare that a Rom Com doesn’t depend heavily on it’s soundtrack, and Notting Hill is no exception. A mix of old and new, covers and originals, punctuate the story. One stands out in particular, though; Elvis Costello’s aching rendition of Charles Aznavour’s She. It drips with longing and pain, and takes its fitting place as the central score.

While it has its syrupy moments, Notting Hill never dips to banality; rather it’s smart script, and excellent renderings for the entire cast, particularly Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, makes it utterly charming each watch after watch.

As an epilogue to this trip filled with coincidences, I noticed while looking at the Wikipedia page for Notting Hill that it premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square. We stayed across the street.

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