'Notting Hill' is still one of the best rom-coms — 25 years later

Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill
(Image credit: Alamy)

The formula for a romantic comedy goes something like this: boy meets girl, boy loves girl, boy then loses girl, and boy wins back girl. “Notting Hill,” which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, does not stray far from this path. Yet, the rom-com starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant elects to take the long road — one with peaks and valleys — before reaching its inevitable conclusion.

Directed by Roger Michell, “Notting Hill” is a rom-com about star-crossed lovers from different worlds. Yet, it’s neither Romeo and Juliet nor someone from the wrong side of the tracks. “Notting Hill” is about a normal guy and a Hollywood star falling in love. Can an average Joe and A-list celebrity make it work despite their lifestyle differences? Frankly, it’s a dream scenario, something we’ve all thought of at one point or another. 

As a kid, I always envisioned myself winding up with Amy Jo Johnson’s Pink Ranger from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” Yet, it could never work because of the age gap and my lack of superhero powers. To quote Barry Keoghan, “Well, there goes that dream.”

Like many romantic comedies, “Notting Hill” begins with a meet-cute between Anna Scott (Roberts), the most famous woman on the planet, and William Thacker (Grant), a recently divorced bookstore owner. The two poke fun at an odd customer, and William does his best to keep it cool, despite nervously blabbering about kebabs and books. Anna clearly appreciates his attempt to treat her like a normal human, and the two part ways on good terms.

Destiny brings these two together minutes later as Williams runs into Anna, spilling orange juice on her white shirt. William allows Anna to clean up at his apartment and shoots his shot by offering her every drink and snack under the sun. It doesn’t work at first, but Anna eventually kisses William goodbye. Their connection is electric, and the audience wants them to hook up in William’s flat (more on that later). But “Notting Hill” again chooses patience, letting the slow-burn romance continue.

There is no shortage of delightful moments throughout the film. There’s the press junket when William poses as a writer for “Horse & Hound,” London’s top equestrian magazine, to spend time with Anna and ask her on a date. Later, Anna shows up on William’s doorstep after a tabloid scandal rocks her world. William provides a place of solace and comfort, showing compassion to someone who rarely sees it in her day-to-day life. You can rationalize why Anna falls for William, just like you can see why an audience would fall for Roberts and Grant.

Two rom-com titans working together 

Let’s start with Roberts, the undisputed “Queen of Rom-coms” in 1999. Roberts was at the absolute peak of her powers, making her the perfect actress to play a Hollywood megastar. Surprisingly, Roberts almost passed on “Notting Hill,” telling British Vogue that playing a movie actress was “uncomfortable” and the “hardest thing” she ever had to do. Yet, I can’t think of any other actress besides Roberts who could bring such elegance, grace, and humility to the role. First of all, Roberts looks incredible in this movie. 

First of all, Roberts looks incredible in this movie. When she walks into the bookstore donning a leather jacket, Chanel beret, and black sunglasses, make no mistake, this is an A-list movie star. “Notting Hill” screenwriter Richard Curtis said the role of Anna was a hybrid of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. Still, Roberts’s charm makes you believe there’s some of the actress’s own persona in the role.

Roberts is on the Mount Rushmore for best smile and laugh in Hollywood. Time stands still whenever she shows off her pearly whites or unleashes her infectious laugh. At the final press conference, the camera remains on Roberts's sublime face after saying her final lines. She conveys so much joy and emotion without saying a word. Her face is hypnotic in all the best ways. William and the audience can’t look away.

Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant in Notting Hill

(Image credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

Where does “Notting Hill” stand in Roberts’s rom-com rankings? Ask most fans of the genre, and they’ll say “Pretty Woman,” “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and “Notting Hill” are Roberts’s top three romantic comedies. Personally, “Pretty Woman” is the best movie — script, direction, story, performances, etc. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” is the best comedy of the three. And “Notting Hill” is Roberts’s best movie star performance, a role that perfectly utilizes her talent, personality, and appeal. 

Across from Roberts is Grant, a star in his own right after breaking out in 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” also written by Curtis and produced by Duncan Kenworthy. Grant feels at home playing the timid William, who relies on deadpan humor and British wit to win Anna’s heart. Subtle things from Grant — his delivery of “whoopsie daisies” and his puppy-dog stare when Anna regrets their night together — enhance William's charm and likability, even if he won't stop brooding or doubting himself.

As much as I love the film, I have two problems with William. First, Grant is too handsome to be a loser. There is no way any woman would leave him after staring at his smooth face with blue eyes and a perfect middle-part hairstyle. My second biggest gripe involves William’s apartment. The owner of a travel bookstore— a struggling one, for that matter — living in a beautiful triplex in London is the least believable thing in the entire film. It reminds me of Sonny Koufax's SoHo apartment in Big Daddy. There's no chance a settlement check and a toll booth worker's salary is paying for a loft in one of the richest parts of New York City. The principles apply to Mr. Thacker.

Weird friends with powerful things to say

As he did in “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” Curtis supplies Grant with a quirky and eclectic group of friends. The gang includes Max (Tim McInnerny), William’s best friend; Bella (Gina McKee), Max’s wife, who is confined to a wheelchair; Honey (Emma Chambers), William’s absurd sister; and Bernie (Hugh Bonneville), a stockbroker and William's friend. There’s also Spike (Rhys Ifans), William’s sloppy, dim-witted roommate and thorn in his side.

The group loves to hurl witty insults at each other, a sign of an honest friendship. At Honey’s birthday party, everyone takes turns wallowing in their sorrows, providing their sob story to win the last brownie. Anna even partakes by pointing out how Hollywood’s ridiculous beauty standards led to a decadelong diet and cosmetic surgeries on her chin and nose. For the first time, William, his friends, and the audience sympathize with Anna. This brutal honesty around the table opens Anna’s eyes to what’s missing in her life — caring and loving friends who would do anything for each other.

The cast of Notting Hill

(Image credit: Alamy)

Anna finally realizes what she wants, and that’s William, leading to the film’s lasting memory, the “I’m just a girl" speech. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to mention the iconic speech from Anna, as she bares her soul and pleads with William to love her. The Grinch would grow a heart watching this scene. Learning that Roberts changed into her own clothing — flip-flops, a blue velvet skirt, a t-shirt, and a cardigan — to rebel against dressing like a movie star is one of the many reasons why she’s the best. 

As I rewatched “Notting Hill” for the umpteenth time, the speech I find myself returning to comes from Bella when the group has the final dinner at Tony’s restaurant. During the toast, Bella says, “The more I think about things, the more I see no rhyme or reason in life. No one knows why some things work out and some things don't.” Life is random. Some people get to date Anna Scott, while others wind up in a wheelchair after a freak accident. Most of life's occurrences are out of our hands. However, you can choose how to react and move forward. 

Bella’s speech is extremely thought-provoking, something not often associated with a rom-com. This sophistication is why “Notting Hill” remains one of the genre’s best offerings. A humorous script, sensational chemistry between the leads, and a strong supporting cast is a winning formula. You can’t go wrong with a feel-good ending, and “Notting Hill” will put a Julia Roberts-esque smile on your face. 

Rent/buy "Notting Hill" on Amazon or Apple

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Dan Girolamo
Writer

Dan is a talented content creator who specializes in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. His entertainment interviews have been featured on Digital Trends, where he has spoken with various actors and entertainers, including Brendan Fraser, Alison Brie, and James Cameron. Additionally, Dan is a sportswriter with The Sports Daily, breaking down the top news in the NFL and NBA while providing picks and predictions for each league. Other bylines include ComingSoon.net, Unafraid Show, Fansided, and WatchMojo. When he’s not working, Dan enjoys rooting for his favorite New York sports teams and watching the latest movie from Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese.