I’ve watched a lot of movies in my lifetime. A lot. And yet my film knowledge is severely lacking in one particular area. I haven’t watched a number of “big-name” films: the movies that people praise all the time, the movies that are all over “movies you have to watch before you die” lists, the movies that everyone knows by name … They’re all movies that I definitely should have watched by now, so I’ve decided to take the time and document my “First Impressions of this category of film.

I’m just a girl, standing in front of her readers, asking them to forgive me … because I just watched “Notting Hill” for the first time and thought it was overrated.

I’m a huge fan of rom-coms. There’s something so nice about going into a movie and knowing that it will have a happy ending. While no rom-com is perfect, and, in fact, many are far from it, I had high hopes for “Notting Hill.” I’d heard about the movie on numerous occasions, not to mention its most famous line, and assumed that it would be one of the rare, almost-perfect rom-coms. Unfortunately, it was not.

The plot itself isn’t the problem; I’m actually really intrigued by the idea of a big-name star falling in love with a shy bookstore owner. And that premise starts out well with Hugh Grant’s (“Love, Actually”) William Thacker. He portrays the stereotypical shy and awkward travel bookshop owner so well. This was my first real exposure to Grant’s acting, and after watching his performance in the film, it definitely won’t be the last. With his incredible portrayal of William, I found myself thinking that there was no way the movie could fail. However, when Julia Roberts’ (“Pretty Woman”) Anna Scott entered, I realized I was mistaken.

Part of the problem that I had with the movie stems from William and Anna’s unrealistically quick relationship. Literally moments after they first meet, they are kissing. The pacing feels off and unbelievable. And not just “rom-com unbelievable” … really unbelievable. In fact, the pacing feels off for the whole movie. I often didn’t realize that months had passed by until someone explained it. Though I believe the movie spans at least a year, I’m honestly not sure. 

The other big problem was with Anna herself. She was fine in the beginning of the film — unrealistic relationship speed notwithstanding — but as the story progressed, I found myself becoming incredibly irritated by her. When she breaks William’s heart (twice!) by having a boyfriend (Alec Baldwin, “The Departed”) and by saying that she regretted their time together once the paparazzi got wind of it, I was so saddened on his behalf. Roberts herself wasn’t at fault; in fact, she played Anna Scott so well that I almost forgot I was watching Julia Roberts, an actress who I’m pretty sure I’ve never disliked in a film. Still, I will admit that her vulnerability with William when asking him to love her did get to me. It made up for her temper in previous scenes and made me feel a lot more sympathy for her, as it was meant to.

The second half of the film, though, which features William’s friends more heavily, was much more enjoyable than the first. Seeing that his friends really care about him by setting him up with girl after girl warmed my heart. I’m a sucker for big gestures in rom-coms, so seeing them driving crazily down the streets of London to reach Anna’s press conference in time had me grinning despite my conflicted emotions toward Anna. William’s roommate Spike (Rhys Ifans, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) stole the show in this scene (and in many others). Seeing him get out of the car and try to stop traffic was something I wasn’t expecting but thoroughly enjoyed.

I got the happy ending that I was expecting, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed it in this film. It almost felt too easy for William and Anna to lead perfectly happy lives after the rollercoaster ride of their relationship.

The film had some high points, Hugh Grant being the best of them all, but the confusing timeline and deeply unrealistic relationship made the film fall a little flat. If this was just any old rom-com, I’d probably be happy with it. But given the fact that “Notting Hill” has become famously well-known and highly-praised, my expectations were so much higher, and the film didn’t deliver.

Daily Arts Writer Sabriya Imami can be reached at simami@umich.edu.


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