25 Years Since Notting Hill: A Tribute To The Most Chaotic Rom-Com Ever Made

25 Years Since Notting Hill: A Tribute To The Most Chaotic Rom-Com Ever Made

Notting Hill, the romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, was released to theatres across North America on May 28, 1999, and went on to become the highest-grossing British film of all time…

By Anne T. Donahue

The first time I saw Notting Hill, the very cool mom of the kids I was babysitting rented it for me. She’d bought me chips, a bottle of Coke, and left only about an hour before her children’s bedtime. In short, it was the one of the best nights of one of the best jobs I ever had. And my life was, of course, changed forever.

When Notting Hill was released this week a quarter century ago, I don’t think any of us (me) foresaw it becoming a mainstay of the nineties rom-com landscape. As a then-13-year-old infant, my romantic comedy experience was largely limited to the films starring actors I ripped from the pages of Seventeen and Teen People. Hugh Grant was cute, but he was a grown-ass man. Julia Roberts was a movie star, but one better acquainted with my parents. I lived for Shania Twain’s “You’ve Got a Way,” but why wouldn’t I? I, like all of you, had memorized the entirety of Come on Over upon its release in 1997. Notting Hill seemed like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night, not the reason I’d go on to see Mickey Blue Eyes in theatres on my birthday. (I regret nothing.)

Yet the important thing about Notting Hill is not the love story, not the romantic English setting, not the reference to Horse & Hound, but the fact that it remains one of the most chaotic romantic comedies committed to film. It is unhinged, confusing, and the reason I believed I could carry off a beret far too long into my young adult life. I’m actually not entirely sure why we like it.

25 Years Since Notting Hill: A Tribute To The Most Chaotic Rom-Com Ever Made

To start, Anna Scott (played by Julia Roberts)’s entire personality is “I am famous.” She is an actress who chooses to randomly kiss Hugh Grant (whose name in the movie doesn’t matter, nor do I choose to remember it) after he spills cappuccino on her t-shirt and she has to change into a new outfit at his Notting Hill home. Then, she summons him to a press junket at her hotel, joins him for dinner with his friends for his sister’s birthday, and then over the course of their intense two or three days together, fails to tell him she’s with Alec Baldwin, who is an absolute ghoul. It’s weird, right? Weirder still is that after she’s caught at his house after a personal scandal, after she invites him to watch her film a scene from her new movie, and after she brings him a painting about goats and love and floating through space, he is compelled to be with her, to the point of declaring said love at a press conference for . . . something. It doesn’t matter. In the end, I think they’ve met maybe five times.

This, dear reader, is madness. And is also the reason that, alongside Titanic, Ever After, Romeo + Juliet, etc., I truly believed that real love takes root after a meet cute and/or passing glance. What do we know about Hugh Grant as this character, exactly? That he wears glasses, has a penchant for pastel button-ups, was called “Flopsy” because of his hair, and perfect friends I would hang out with any day of the week. We know he has a roommate who is equal parts comic relief and also . . . like, do we want to say “menace”? (We do.) We know that he is divorced, and that in our current economic climate, his travel bookstore likely no longer exists because nothing gold shall stay. And that he lives in the house with the blue door. Did this stop me from projecting my hopes and dreams of love and romance onto this man and his fictional union with Anna Scott who seems actually kind of mean and tends to unload real talk onto unsuspecting strangers whose birthday parties she attends? Absolutely not. This, to me, was what adulthood should be, and certainly not a cautionary tale about adults making very hurried decisions. I couldn’t wait to be a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him to love her.

25 Years Since Notting Hill: A Tribute To The Most Chaotic Rom-Com Ever Made

This is where my adult self would typically step in and condemn the movie for romanticizing something that was both unrealistic and doomed, but damn it: I adore the blessed chaos of this cursed film. I love Hugh Grant’s sister, I love that she decides to marry his roommate with absolutely no conversation having been documented between them, I love his friends whose marriage looks actually healthy and good, and I love watching Hugh Bonneville as a man who can’t place Anna Scott to save his soul. I like that Hugh Grant’s whole shtick is that he’s genuinely quite kind and a massive nerd, and that out of every magazine in the world he could pretend to have represented at the junket, he chose Horse & Hound — a magazine I’m sure is still funded because for some reasons, those are the magazines that are still thriving in the year of our lord 2024. (It is: I checked, and it’s actually the world’s oldest equestrian magazine. See?) I love the car chase scene set to The Spencer Davis Group, and the fact that in 1999, owning a travel bookstore was a real thing that people could do and still be able to afford property.

Notting Hill is a fantasy on-par with Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Wars, and Sex and the City. It is the simplest, most accessible story about when a boy meets girl, and because they’re both very good looking, they manage to make something work. It revolves around characters whose personalities really don’t amount to much more than “This person is bad at cooking,” yet manage to make me care about them more than members of my own family. And it’s set to a soundtrack that is so moving, so iconic, so adult contemporary that I refuse to acknowledge the movie’s real flaws in lieu of focusing on the fact that minutes of dialogue were reserved for discourse about “Whoopsie Daisy.”

So on its 25th anniversary, I choose to celebrate the sheer chaos of this story, and to remind everybody that Julia Roberts’ Vans worn in the movie is the reason I can justify wearing mine with almost anything. However, I refuse to admit that Anna Scott seemed like an actor whose career I’d actually care about. We all know that her strange space movie really should’ve featured more horses.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, Notting Hill, top story, topstory

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