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See if any of this sounds familiar. Shuffling singleton Hugh Grant shares a house with an eccentric but funny flatmate. He falls for a beautiful American girl who can only visit England on special occasions. He embarrasses himself in front of her yet she finds him endearing. He discusses all his problems with his friends, she confides solely in him. Despite a series of misunderstandings, Grant and the girl fall in love. The movie in which they appear goes on to be one of the most successful British films of all time and Richard Curtis, the writer, goes home satisfied at another job well done.
There's no reason to doubt that Notting Hill will repeat the success of Four Weddings as easily as it repeats the basic plot. It has extremely funny moments, Hugh Grant is - - again - - appealing and Americans will delight at this loveable bunch of mad Limeys with their strange liking for tea and old-fangled magazines like Horse And Hound. Hell, there's even a bigger-name American actress than Andie MacDowell and - - get this - she's playing a big-name American actress! But if you'd never seen Four Weddings, or weren't aware of the whole Hugh Grant phenomenon (the one that came and went quicker than you could say Divine Brown), how would you feel about Notting Hill?
Well, probably pretty good; especially in the first half. It carries the audience along and there's every reason to feel that your ticket money was well spent. Rhys Ifans is scene-stealingly funny as William's slobbish flatmate Spike, while Grant delivers Curtis' lines to perfection. There aren't many men who can turn a speech about wine-soaked apricots into a rib-tickling gag, or utter so many words of self -deprecation and make them sound like a winning character reference.
One of the highlights requires Grant to pose as a Horse And Hound journalist at a press junket in an attempt to speak to Anna, producing five minutes of embarrassment that'll stand as some of the funniest committed to celluloid this year. There's even some fancy camera-work: a stunning, sweeping crane shot in the park and a tracking shot that shows the changing seasons in Portobello Market. The locations are used so well that you can guarantee tourists will be flocking to the area, as well as Kenwood House and the Ritz Hotel.
Yet as the story heads into its second hour the pace begins to flag. Roberts has very little to do except smile prettily, and while she does this very well, it's a waste of a good comic actress. She proved in Pretty Woman and My Best's Friend's Wedding that she does know how to deliver a punchline, but here, her lines are few, with Grant given double the dialogue and making the most of it. There's also no good reason why the couple don't just get together and have done with it, with the obstacles placed in their path too contrived. Meanwhile the Ronan Keating-led soundtrack intrudes heavily and there are whole sequences in which the characters do nothing more than gaze at each other and smile.
Thankfully, the gags do save the day and the last-minute dash to rescue the love affair is an audience-cheering moment. Even those who've seen Four Weddings will find it hard not to be won over by some of the highlights of this `sequel'. Some may leave the cinema feeling cheated, but there's no denying this is crowd-pleasing stuff. Notting Hill is not perfect by any means, yet despite its familiarity it delivers a satisfying amount of comedy and should put Hugh Grant back on the map as a leading man.
There are better movies to spend two hours with - - but what other film this year is going to show a famous Hollywood actress, a foppish English eccentric and a slobbish semi-naked Welshman and give you plenty of excuse to laugh at them?
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