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IN SHORT: Bloody damned good. A perfect date flick. [Rated [PG-13]]
PROLOG: Cranky was talking to a TV critic friend before the all-media screening of Notting Hill when a tap came upon his shoulder. At the other end of the finger was a Publicity VP for another studio, who said it to my face: "You're not so Cranky." Totally demoralized, Cranky slithered into his seat and watched his foundering rep sink like a stone; crumble into dust like a vampire destroyed by the brighter than sunlight million dollar smile of star Julia Roberts.
Movies like Notting Hill wreak havoc on his reputation. It is funny and romantic and sexy without a drop of romantic sap anywhere. The story of a famous American movie star, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) who wanders into the travel themed bookstore of average English guy William Thacker (Hugh Grant) who does nothing more than treat her like a normal, average girl. [Cranky's been interviewing celebs since he was a teen. The most appreciated thing (you) can do as an interviewer is to treat them like "normal" people.] She buys a book. She walks out of his life, which would be the end of story except for a second meeting on a London street and a glass of orange juice. This time out a truly flustered Thacker, who isn't so competent in his romantic dealings with non-celebrities, manages to crack the thick celebrity shielding that Anna bears -- you can tell the shields are up because she doesn't smile. Thacker isn't suave or a great seducer, but something about this average guy strikes a chord inside the average girl turned $15 million a film movie star. One very impulsive kiss later, she's out of his life for a second time, but not for good.
Cranky once got checked out at a big Hollywood party by a very famous Oscar winning actress. All I got was more chat time than I'd get at a press junket, proving conclusively that I'm a helluva lot more incompetent with women than the fictional Thacker. That's why I'm Cranky. Now you know.
Roberts and Grant deliver more chemistry than you could ever steal out of a high school science lab locker. The strength in Richard Curtis' screenplay isn't as much the star power as it is in the strength of the supporting characters. Every one of them has a story. Every single story will ring some kind of bell among all of us regular folks and all the performances are worth noting: Tim McInnerny as William's best friend Max, who does his best to fix his pal up with a lifemate; Gina McKee as Max' wife Bella, confined to a wheelchair after a traffic accident (more on this below); Emma Chambers as the sister whose success in love is as bad as her brother; Hugh Bonneville as "incompetent" stockbroker Bernie. We meet this group at a small birthday dinner thrown for Honey to which Anna invites herself in. Their reactions, from completely star struck to totally ignorant, are dead on. Their friendship with William, regardless of whether Anna is part of his life or not, is far more important to them than any short term starburst.
William's growing friendship pulls him into the world of celebrity work as he stumbles into a junket for Anna's new film "Helix" and has to improvise when he's mistaken for a journalist, and we haven't gotten close to the bit about the swarming paparazzi. William has little delusion about falling for a star. Anna has got her own celebrity boyfriend to worry about, and I think you've been told all you need to know about the story. But Cranky ain't done . . .
William has a house-mate named Spike, a slothful, horney Welshman with bad teeth, a scraggly beard and personal habits that would make a pig in the mud look good. Rhys Ifans' performance also happens to be split your sides funny. There must be some award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy somewhere (SAG or the Golden Globes might actually have one) 'cuz Ifans should have a nomination nailed.
The hand of Roger Michell, the director, is fairly invisible -- as in he gets everything working so well that there's very little on any acting or technical level that Cranky can get, um, cranky about. Michell drops four or five subject related songs over the action, which would normally piss me right off except that one sequence involves some beautiful morphing work that portrays the passage of time and the last couple of songs are classics by Bill Withers and Steve Winwood. The soundtrack, in general, includes work by Elvis Costello and Shania Twain. Cranky can't get too angry when the music is good.
Ah hell, it's incredibly difficult to be cranky when a flick is so much fun. Let's just flush my rep down the crapper and get this over with.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Notting Hill, he would have paid...
If Cranky could handle more than one dating relationship at a time, there'd be little to keep him from seeing Notting Hill again. Pathetically, there ain't been anything like that in years. <sigh>
Back to Bella for a sec, as promised. On a personal level, as a disabled person (read the history page, I don't want to go into it here) I truly appreciate Curtis' dialog for this character as well as the matter of fact reaction when Anna asks William "What happened?" The subtle and occasionally self deprecating remarks that Bella makes about her situation are all perfectly in character for anyone who has ever been disabled. More important, her friends take her disability in stride, hammered home in a great scene towards the end of the flick -- and there is nothing about Michell's direction that calls attention to that most wonderful bit, which is the way it should be.
Some of us would kill for friends like that.
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