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Anna Scott Julia Roberts is the world's most famous movie star. William Thacker Hugh grant owns a travel bookstore in the quaint neighborhood of Notting Hill. When their paths cross, the couple comes to face the ultimate question: can two people fall in love with the whole world watching?
They don't really make many romantic comedies like Notting Hill anymore--blissfully romantic, sincerely sweet, and not grounded in any reality whatsoever. Pure fairy tale, and with a huge debt to Roman Holiday, Notting Hill ponders what would happen if a beautiful, world-famous person were to suddenly drop into your life unannounced and promptly fall in love with you. That's the crux of the situation for William Thacker Hugh Grant, who owns a travel bookshop in London's fashionable Notting Hill district. Hopelessly ordinary well, as ordinary as you can be when you're Hugh Grant, William is going about his life when renowned movie star Anna Scott Julia Roberts walks into his bookstore and into his heart. After another contrived meet-cute involving spilled orange juice, William and Anna share a spontaneous kiss big suspension of disbelief required here, and soon both are smitten. The question is, of course, can William and Anna reconcile his decidedly commonplace bookseller existence and her lifestyle as a jet-setting, paparazzi-stalked celebrity? Take a wild guess at the answer. Smartly scripted by Richard Curtis Four Weddings and a Funeral and directed by Roger Michell Persuasion, Notting Hill is hardly realistic, but as wish fulfillment and a romantic comedy, it's irresistible. True, Roberts doesn't really have to stretch very far to play a big-time actress who makes $15 million per movie, but she's more winning and relaxed than she's been in years, and Grant is sweetly understated as a man blindsided by love. Together, in moments of quiet, they're a charming couple, and you can feel her craving for real love and his awe and amazement at the wonderful person for whom he has fallen. The only blight on the film is its overbearing pop soundtrack, though Elvis Costello's heart-wrenching version of "She" gets poignant exposure. With Rhys Ifans as Grant's scene-stealing, slovenly housemate and Alec Baldwin in a sly, perfectly cast cameo. --Mark Englehart