Prior to last night, Notting Hill was one of my favourite movies.
It has all the makings of a classic, including but not limited to: Hugh Grant’s face but also his hair, the weedy roommate who looks like about eight people I know, and some good music that I can’t name off the top of my head right now.
But then I did what no person should ever do if they truly love a movie from the ’90s.
…I watched it again through a goddamn critical lens.
0/10, do not recommend.
You see, my issue lies with the characterisation of Anna Scott.
Scott, played by Julia Roberts, isn't just deeply flawed. She is — in a word Hugh Grant would use — 'insufferable'.
Scott and Will Thacker, played by Hugh Grant, meet in his book shop. Moments later Thacker accidentally spills his orange juice on Scott. He definitely didn't mean it. It's Hugh Grant for goodness sake, he can't exactly help being clumsy AF.
Anyway, Scott isn't happy about it, which I guess is fair enough. And there begins their romance.
Scott invites him to the Ritz hotel where she is staying, but alas he is mistaken for a journalist so claims he works for Horse and Hound.
This is where my scepticism of Ms Scott begins.
Why did she invite him over when she was clearly busy with press interviews? Why did she make him wait and then put him through the agony of pretending he watched some crappy sci-fi movie? Why does she not stop the PR dude and say "Oh, sorry mate, this is actually a friend of mine I wanted to catch up with so it is completely UNNECESSARY to have him sit across from me and ask me questions about the movie I'm in"?
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Because she feels bad (which she should), she clears her evening for Will. As it turns out it's his sister Honey's birthday party, so Anna suggests she go as his date.
She's fine at the dinner, I suppose. Although she does try and argue that she's worse off than a woman who suffered a tragic accident, is now in a wheelchair for life, and has just found out she is unable to have children.
After they leave dinner, a romantic song plays and it's all very nice and they kiss.
The next night they go on another date, so you could say things are moving along pretty quickly. They have dinner, and then Anna invites him up to her room... this time as himself, rather than forcing him to pretend he works for a magazine about horses.
But when he arrives, her boyfriend is there. Ah. Nothing ruins a good date like your new girlfriend's boyfriend showing up from the US.
Jeff King (Anna's partner) mistakes Will as a room-service waiter, and asks him very nicely to please take out the rubbish.
Anna corrects him and says "No - Jeff. I am seeing this incredible man, who's sister and best friends I have met. He is kind and has puppy dog eyes..."
EXCEPT SHE DOESN'T DO ANY OF THAT.
Instead, she stands there awkwardly as Will collects the rubbish and then proceeds to passionately hook up with Jeff in front of him. Will leaves, she doesn't follow him, and then doesn't make any contact for six months.
Um. I don't know about you, but I would be legitimately traumatised by that encounter. She made him introduce her to his sister when she had a long term movie-star boyfriend. Who does that?
Six months later, Anna turns up distraught on his doorstep. Nude photos of her have been released, and she needs somewhere to hide out - like Will's place (the subtext is "you're a total nobody so I won't be found lol".)
They don't really talk about the whole 'boyfriend' complication, but rather discuss her very exciting career and practice her lines on the rooftop.
The next day she asks if she can stay. BUT then the doorbell rings, and it turns out good ol' Spike told someone at the pub that Anna Scott was staying at his house. No matter how you look at it, this is in no way Will's fault. But she yells at him, accusing him of chasing publicity, and then says she completely regrets their time together.
Months pass again, and Will discovers Anna is back in town shooting a film. He visits her on shoot, which I think we can all agree he should not have done given a) she cheated on him and b) she said she regretted their time together.
Will is given headphones to listen to the dialogue (because watching someone at work would just be so much fun, like how Anna watches Will serve people at the bookshop... not) and overhears Anna tell her costar he is "no one important". He leaves, which is the smartest decision he's made in the whole entire film.
By this point, Anna has proven herself to be the actual worst.
All up, they have hung out for only a number of hours and she has managed to be excessively mean to him every time. Thus far, her two 'redeeming' factors are that she is a) rich and b) famous. She tells a total of one joke in the entire movie, which goes something like: "You know what they say about big feet?... Big shoes." It's not even FUNNY. Women are so much FUNNIER than that.
It is clear Will is in love with the idea of Anna, rather than the person. In fact, he doesn't actually know the person. As Dr Phil says "you teach people how to treat you" - and Will is so far sweet with a partner who lies to him, cheats on him, yells at him for no reason, made him interview her as a date, and then flat out denies that she knows him, all before he has even been given the slightest reason to like her.
Then comes the book shop scene. One of the most famous moments in cinematic history.
"I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her," Anna says.
NO YOU'RE NOT. You are, firstly, a full-blown woman who has repeatedly screwed this fully grown man over, and now wants him to take you back because you have serious issues with your self esteem. There I said it.
She buys him an expensive painting, which means nothing, because money is relative and she is a millionaire.
He rejects her, and personally I am very happy that the moral of the story is 'have a bit of self respect and don't take back someone who isn't all that nice to you'. Ah... well done. All finished. Might have a shower and go to b....
Will's friends give him the worst advice in the history of the world and they go on an extremely dangerous and irresponsible car ride through Notting Hill, which puts everyone's lives at risk.
They make it to the press conference (just in time!) and Will poses as a journalist (for the second f*cking time!) and asks if she will stay if he loves her back.
She smiles with her absurdly beautiful smile and they just keep smiling and then laughing because what a happy ending.
WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED.
Anna is a mess. A self absorbed, confused, sad and vacuous mess. She needs to see a psychologist.
You might be thinking, 'But, why does any of this matter? It's not hurting anyone. It's just a cute rom com! Enjoy it for what it is!' But it does matter. It hurts everyone who is fed false hope. Everyone who has been treated really badly, yet longs for a happy ending.
Worldwide, Notting Hill grossed US$363,889,678. And you know what those numbers mean? That a damn lot of people saw it. And within it sat a lesson, as is the case with all films.
That this is what love looks like.
But that is not true.
Notting Hill is what infatuation looks like. And infatuation, with no substance, never ends well.