Julia Roberts’ dissenters who claim the blockbuster actress to be overhyped and a tad overrated (a group whose thesis I happily subscribe to) might sing a different tune after viewing “”Notting Hill,”” a perfectly delightful comedy from the writer of “”Four Weddings and a Funeral.”” While Roberts can not be lauded for elevating the film, she finally finds the character she can most relate to, and it’s amusing watching the film play out.
Roberts plays world-famous film actress Anna Scott, a Hollywood star who’s as beloved as, oh say Julia Roberts. As in Julia’s real life, there’s very little Anna can do that isn’t picked up by the media and beamed into the living rooms of adoring fans.On the opposite end of the pond – or England, for the geographically challenged – is William Thacker (a frail, hilarious Hugh Grant), the owner of a small travel bookstore located in the quaint village of Notting Hill. Thacker, who wouldn’t know a box-office point from a pencil point, has his world turned upside down when a carefully disguised Scott enters his store looking for a book. Despite his clumsiness and persistentstammering, love blooms.Recognizing who Anna is, William goes to her hotel to court her with traditional methods, innocently believing flowers and personality will be enough to win the heart of a Hollywood player. Instead, in one of the film’s finest jabs, he’s caught up in a press junket, where he’s forced to make up questions about a film he’s never seen for actors he can’tidentify. It’s Grant at his most uncomfortable, and it’s delightful.But eventually William does meet Anna, and the courtship begins. More jokes are wrangled out of the glaring mismatch, and the two struggle to keep the relationship quiet for Anna’s sake. But eventually the press do find out (as they’re wont to do), and Anna breaks the relationship off out of frustration and fear. Will William be able to win back the world’s most famous actress, who happens to be just a girl, standing in front of a boy,telling him she loves him. Must you ask?The beauty of “”Notting Hill”” is its ability to travel familiar paths without ever becoming generic or cliched, at least not until the film’s final act, which involves the couple’s break-up and inevitable resolution. While Roberts and Grant are a fine pair, its Hugh who we most identify with; a pie-eyed simpleton who’s granted access behind-the-scenes for precious few moments. How does he behave? How would you? But, as in “”Weddings,”” the bulk of “”Hill””‘s laughs are reserved for the supporting players, particularly Will’s circle of friends and his roommate, Spike (Rhys Ifans). The film’s bone dry British humor bounces lively from these character actors, resulting in most of the film’s strongest scenes. Sorry, Julia.GRADE: BTHE EXTRAS: For reasons unknown, Universal chose to release “”Notting Hill”” as one of its brand new “”Ultimate Edition”” DVDs. Not to take anything away from the movie. As it stands, it probably deserves extra treatment, and its fan base would probably be interested in the film’s back story. But the studio just recently released a “”Collector’s Edition”” disc for””Hill,”” which features most of the same extras. The “”Ultimate Edition”” now spreads over two discs, which makes it feel more comprehensive. And there are a few new features on the disc, including a featurette on the film’s “”Seasonal Walk”” sequence and two music videos – one from Shania Twain, one from Elvis Costello. But the rest are holdovers from the “”Collector’s Edition,”” including arunning feature commentary, deleted scenes, music highlights (I don’t recall the music being so prevalent), and a humorous feature entitled “”Hugh Grant’s Movie Tips.”” They all reflect the jovial mod surrounding the film, suggesting that it was as much fun to make thefilm as it was to watch. The only one absent from most of the extras is Ms. Roberts. Go figure. The new “”Notting Hill”” DVD comes in Universal’s odd clear case, a tri-fold plastic setup that allows for some creative artwork, but little else. However, with the existence of a similar “”Collector’s”” version of the film, it makes you wonder if the “”Ultimate Edition”” is worth your money. GRADE: C+OVERALL EXPERIENCE:The movie “”Notting Hill”” is far more charming and entertaining than you’d expect. The leads have good chemistry and the supporting characters are hysterical, in a British sense. If you like Rowan Atkinson’s “”Mr. Bean”” (which was also written by Curtis), you’ll laugh at “”Hill.”” But for anyone who forked over cash for the previous “”Collector’s Edition,”” you should be okay with that. Other fans who waited, anticipating an “”Ultimate Edition,”” your ship has come in. FINAL GRADE: B-