Rated PG-13 - Running time: 2:03 - Released 5/28/99

Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are well-cast in Roger Michell's Notting Hill. All celebrities have to deal with their privacy being compromised by tabloid journalism, and Grant and Roberts have certainly had their share of unpleasant press. This is what Notting Hill is about; it's the story of a globally famous actress's attempt to have a normal relationship with a normal man. Grant and Roberts do a perfectly fine job, but they're playing characters we've seen many times before. Grant's William Thacker is virtually the exact same shy-but-witty guy as his Charles in Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994), only this time it's Roberts he's pursuing instead of Andie MacDowell. Roberts is, well, Roberts — playing herself. In the film her name is Anna Scott.

It starts out as a normal day at William's travel book shop in Notting Hill, London, until Anna happens in. An orange juice-related accident lands her in his home across the street, where his propensity for small talk charms the woman and she gives him an unsolicited smooch. She leaves, and William thinks he's seen the last of her, but soon he finds himself invited into her inner sanctum — her hotel room at the London Ritz.

The plot then mainly follows familiar lines with the couple becoming more and more attached to each other, until the unforgiving British tabloids (they're even worse than the American ones) discover some illicit photographs taken of Anna way back when. "I was poor," she cries to William, but there she is, plastered all over creation in her birthday suit. Then William's wacky roommate Spike (Rhys Ifans) mentions to a few friends that she's staying with them. One morning, William goes outside to get the paper, and there are hundreds of press photographers, snapping away. Now the issue becomes whether William and Anna can stay together under such circumstances.

Written by Richard Curtis, who penned Bean and the aforementioned Four Weddings, this story is cute but a little light on meaning, like those two. A typical Roberts/Grant vehicle.What makes it a bit more interesting is the backdrop of supporting characters. There's Spike, who considers himself a ladies' man even though he looks like a reject from The Full Monty. Ifans is hilarious; he practically steals the show. Also on board is the slightly less weird Honey (Emma Chambers), still looking for the perfect man, and William's ex-girlfriend Bella (Gina McKee) and her husband Max (Tim McInnerny), who is William's best friend. Along with their friend Bernie (Hugh Bonneville), a stock broker who is really terrible at his job, the group gets together for Honey's birthday, and William invites Anna. After their initial shock, they all accept her as one of the group, and this is one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. Better, really, than the trite William/Anna romance. Making a cameo as Anna's boorish American boyfriend is Alec Baldwin, a surprising face to see in this movie.

What else can I tell you? Roberts flashes her famous smile. Grant does his famous self-deprecating charm. The ending is as predictable as they come. Curtis and Michell rely on America's love for those nutty Brits to sell the film, and they will not be disappointed. ***½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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