Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Romance on Portobello Road

Seems the normal thing these days to get home with the dark fast falling. At this season I’m used to it, and almost don’t even think about it. Common to see the day shading into night just about the time I reach home. Twilight usually sees me stopped in front of Ishii Yakitori waiting for the barrier to rise at the train tracks. Yesterday I stopped not just to wait for the train to pass, but also to buy two small baked potatoes. I enjoy teasing the lady there, asking her crazy things like, “Were these potatoes baked sometime this month?” She’s used to me however, and answers with something like, “No, I think it was the last week in January.” The pink cherry blossoms in the photo are in front of the shop, and from an early blooming tree in Yamagata Prefecture.

But, on to the movies. Last night after the baked potato, mushroom and onion jumble I made for dinner, I got interested in an old Julia Roberts-Hugh Grant movie on cable, a 1999 romantic comedy called, Notting Hill. I’m sure I had seen the movie once before, but didn’t recall the details of the story and was happy enough to watch it again.

Obsession with celebrity is these days a societal twist we see almost everywhere. People in most countries seem eager to know as much as possible about movie stars, star athletes, and just about anyone with the title ‘famous.’ Hardly an exaggeration to say that too many of us worship celebrity. Notting Hill is basically a pretty, fluffy romantic comedy, and to many movie fans an okay kind of picture, but not one to get excited about. A step deeper though, the story has an undercurrent hinting that the rich and famous have a hard battle in their search for the simple, unadorned happiness of ordinary people. Simply put, it addresses the double edge of life as a celebrity. Adding another layer, I believe the picture examines not only the nature of fame and romance, but friendship as well.

Here is the basic story: William Thacker (Grant) is a bookstore owner working and living in the Notting Hill area of London, and is barely making ends meet. His personal life is pretty much on the downslide, since his wife left him and there is zero romance in his humdrum life. He has a small group of good friends much like himself, not very successful professionally, a little offbeat, and slightly sad. William’s life changes when American movie star Anna Scott, the most famous, most beautiful movie star in the world walks into his bookstore. This is a romantic comedy, so we aren’t surprised that Anna and William become friends with romance in the offing. But they live in two different worlds and the odds of their relationship ending ‘happily ever after’ are against them.

Hugh Grant is once again the stumbling, clumsy English gentleman with an overflow of charm that is hard to miss. Julia Roberts is basically playing herself as a famous movie star, and she does a pretty good job. As anyone would guess, the match up of these two is near perfect. The producers never considered any other actors for the leads, with a Grant-Roberts matchup envisioned from the start of the project. And for those with a penchant for romantic comedy, with these two stars there is no shortage of charm in the movie’s 124 minutes. Writer Richard Curtis, and producer Duncan Kenworthy were involved in the earlier Hugh Grant film, Four Weddings and a Funeral (Grant falling for another American, Andie MacDowell).

The story is predictable and little is a surprise, except for the wonderful scenes with Thacker’s group of friends. These are the best scenes. The dinner party where guests vie for a last brownie by telling personal hard-luck stories is one of the highlights. You get the feeling that everyone, including the movie star (especially) are aware that somewhere, sometime life is going to drop you on your bum. The idea is poignant in the Roberts character, who admits that fame and beauty are fleeting, that one day people will be asking about her, “Whatever happened to…?” I liked best these scenes with Thacker’s friends, all of them as loyal as anyone could hope for. They also provide a salt of the earth opposite to the movie star world.

There is one very good long tracking shot in the movie that follows Thacker down Portobello Road, and as he walks the seasons change around him. Obviously it was a way of showing Thacker in his lovelorn solitude during the time he and Anna are apart. Another element of the movie I enjoyed was the soundtrack. Elvis Costello singing the Charles Aznavour song, “She” is outstanding, as is the Al Green cover of the Bee Gees hit, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” On the negative side, one could say that the songs in this movie too obviously telegraph the movement of the story. Despite that, it’s my recommendation for a good soundtrack CD.

1 comment:

  1. Great movie. I have always said if I didn't live in the United States I would live in England. That movie makes me feel like that is a little town I would like to live in.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America