This is pretty much an extension of my earlier post on Richard Curtis’ most recent film as seeing that movie compelled me to rewatch this one, highlighting what is right about Notting Hill and what is wrong with About Time.
Richard Curtis films are better when they are directed by someone else. He needs someone to dilute him a little bit reining in the sentimentality and getting the balance right on all the elements of his scripts. For example, the first time he called the shots on one of his own screenplays we got Love Actually and while parts of that film were lovely (Colin Firth/Andrew Lincoln) it really needed a good edit. In particular I’d like to see a version where the character Colin Frissell is nothing more than a waiter in the background of someone else’s story. On the other hand take Four Weddings and a Funeral, scripted by Curtis and directed by Mike Newell, which is a perfectly constructed comedy. The segmented nature of the story also makes it great for dipping into if you just want fifteen minutes of something visual that’s not too abysmal. Often has the sentence : ‘I don’t want to watch a whole movie but we could do a wedding if you like’ been uttered in our house. You can sustain almost a whole week of ‘a little bit of TV before bed’ sessions that way if you accept that day four is always going to be a bit of a downer.
Richard Curtis’ scripts tend to feature a Brit boy romancing a Yank girl but in Notting Hill this is the key plot point rather than something incidental. The idea of the world of Hollywood coming to residential London is unsurprisingly one that appeals to me and Notting Hill plays it like a Disney Princess film in reverse. The girl already has the palace and the adoration, what she wants is to escape into normal domesticity. Yes, the whole point of the film is that life can be a fairy tale but still Notting Hill does not pretend that life is perfect. The couple in About Time have wonderful jobs that don’t seem to ever keep them away from their perfect children and the closest they ever get to arguing is looking at each other quizzically. Whereas Notting Hill has a fragile heroine with a quick temper playing against an ineffectual hero whose failure to act almost ruins their relationship at least three times. Of course we readily fall for their unrealistic charm but only because they are otherwise such believable characters.
It isn’t just the central duo in Notting Hill that are so well rounded; the ensemble around them are strong too. Will’s sister Honey and flat mate Spike are both comedy characters but manage real moments of pathos. Professional failure Bernie is relatable and the always brilliant Tim McInnery and Gina McKee are brilliant as Max and Bella showing great warmth while dealing with their own tragedy. Their relationship is as touching as that of William Thacker and Anna Scott in its own way. About Time, by comparison, does have great performances from the always great Bill Nighy and Tom Hollander but other than that the supporting cast are a little forgettable.
Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are both superb in parts written especially for them even if in the latter case Curtis has just created a character that he said was meant to be ‘someone like Julia Roberts’ only for the producers to suggest they offer it to Julia Roberts. You can see why she took the role – this is one of her best performances and rarely has her unconventional beauty been so well showcased.
Then there is that superb scene where the seasons change around Will as he walks down the street. This is brilliantly shot using almost entirely in-camera effects. Director Roger Michell nails it and if you want to see the same idea done poorly because a less skilled person is in charge then back we go to About Time and the fluid buskers montage.
The other moment that deserves mention is when Roberts’ Anna hides out in Notting Hill after the discovery of a sex tape. This is interesting to watch when you consider it was actually her co-star who had lived through a high profile sex scandal just a few years earlier. It is a credit to the film that this real life role reversal doesn’t distract.
Notting Hill is one of my favourite rom coms, both romantic and very funny which you would think is a basic requirement of the genre but seemingly not. It is still easily the best example of Richard Curtis’ words on the big screen (sorry Andie MacDowell). About Time has a slightly different agenda and the relationship between the protagonist and his father is deeply affecting but take out this emotional piledriver and you aren’t left with a tremendous amount of anything else.
Is this one for the kids?
Nopeity nope. Sex references, profanity, dangerous driving, whoops-a-daisies, 15.
Bechdel Test Score = 3