Saturday, April 27, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #18: NOTTING HILL

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

It’s funny, I’ve always liked Hugh Grant, but until now, I’d never really seen Hugh Grant play his nice guy persona. I have vague memories of seeing FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL long after its release, but the first time I was aware of him was when I read about his lewd conduct arrest in ‘95. The first movie I definitely remember seeing with him in it was BRIDGET JONES, where he plays a cocky asshole and the movie’s villain.

Most recently, I saw him in CLOUD ATLAS where he again plays (among other things) a cocky douchebag. ATLAS has plenty of nice guys in it, but the Wachowskis/Tom Tykwer didn’t ask Grant for a single one. He’s moved beyond his persona indefinitely, it seems! So from this point of view, it was quite interesting to go back to one of his most stereotype-affirming movies, NOTTING HILL.

The story’s fairly simple: Nice Guy Hugh meets and falls in love with Huge Movie Star Julia Roberts. But it’s tough dating a big movie star! She has a busy schedule and it’s hard to meet up. The paparazzi follow her everywhere! They have a crisis, which is somewhat of a funny reveal, but then they make up, but then they have another crisis, and then Hugh and all his wacky friends have to race to a press conference before she leaves the UK.

NOTTING HILL is an amiable, low-stakes movie that elicited a couple of laughs out of me. It’s a testament to Grant that, even when he’s doing obvious schtick, he’s still very likeable. Roberts’ performance is commendably restrained, as her actress character is meant to be pretty beaten down by the life. The movie admirably succeeds in making the life of a movie star seem quite unpleasant (“I’ve been on a diet every day of my life since I was 19.”) and, if anything, you want them to end up together so she’ll have someone nice in her apparently quite shitty life. But that’s where emotional involvement ends, unfortunately. The characters are so thin that it’s hard to get a connection. Hugh is nice, bumbling. Julia is sad, famous. The characters aren’t unlikeable, but they feel a bit empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie was the turning point that made Grant want to drop his schtick.

Dylan Baker’s arch-nemesis Rhys Ifans plays a gross roommate and he’s pretty funny cuz his jokes are about dicks and butts.

I’ll admit that when I felt something, it was in scenes with Hugh’s circle of friends. They all came across as nice people with their shares of ups and downs. The actors (among which Tim McInnerny, Blackadder’s Percy) do a fine job at making them real and pleasant.

It’s not a bad film at all – just an extremely lightweight one. LOVE ACTUALLY, writer Richard Curtis’ next film, fares better because of its nature as a romcom anthology. Don’t like one storyline? Eh, there’s gonna be another one in a few minutes. The Grant-Roberts relationship isn’t interesting enough to carry an entire movie, so you’re kind of sitting there watching sort-of-nice people hang out and make the occasional amusing witticism.

RANDOM NOTES:

Hugh has a book shop, which is already pretty quaint in 2013, but a TRAVEL BOOKS ONLY book shop? Damn son, how do you pay the rent in London?

Hugh wants to meet Julia again, but her junket is running late, so he acts like he’s from a magazine to interview her. My favorite gag in the movie is when he’s asked what magazine he’s from. He looks around in a panic, and his eyes settle on HORSE & HOUND magazine. He literally makes this face at it:

and says “HORSE & HOUND magazine!” to which the publicist just goes “okay sir right this way” without missing a beat. It’s the worst deception I’ve seen in any movie since Aragorn told Eowyn her soup was okay!

Cameos by pre-fame Clarke Peters of The Wire and babbly Mischa Barton of The OC at that very junket! My fiancée is probably the only NOTTING HILL DVD owner that only recognizes the former.

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