The Problem with Notting Hill

I recently read a blogger’s takedown of “Notting Hill.” She had identified the Anna Scott character as being very shallow and self-absorbed. And since she was so flawed, Will Thacker should not have loved her. The author believes no one should watch the movie because it gives a bad example of relationships.

https://www.mamamia.com.au/notting-hill-sends-a-bad-message/

My thoughts…

If you look at this from a “story structure” point of view, you need a character to transform. In order to do that, you have to lay bare her flaws. Anna is self-absorbed and spoiled. And it’s Will and his ‘ordinary’ family that show her that she can be a better person. So Will is the change-agent for Anna.

It’s true that Anna is flawed and trapped in a world where she thinks she can’t escape. Will shows her a way out and she’s a better person when she’s around him. And *that* is the meaning of the story (whether you like schmaltz or not): when we find the right person, we become the best version of ourselves.

5 thoughts on “The Problem with Notting Hill

  1. So…this is like 3-4 years old, so I have no idea if you’ll ever read this. I even found your original comment on the blog you commented on (https://www.mamamia.com.au/notting-hill-sends-a-bad-message/) whilst perusing articles about Notting Hill because I introduced it to my girlfriend and we both hated it. I’d seen it a few times before cause it’s my parents’ favorite movie, but this was her first time watching it.

    I just wanted to write this to go bit by bit on why I think your argument is weak.

    “If you look at this from a “story structure” point of view, you need a character to transform. In order to do that, you have to lay bare her flaws.”

    You’re right. But Will is our main character and is the one who gives us our frame of reference and perspective. Not her. We watch HIS internal struggle with dealing with this situation, not hers. We don’t really see her transform or go through any growing pains of the sort. Her flaws are laid bare and would give fertile ground if we were to watch her grow and change throughout the movie. But we don’t see that. We only ever see her through Will’s perspective and the only thing she really does that shows any transformation is apologize at the end of the movie (without even really acknowledging what she even did mind you). The most transformation we get from anyone is Will yo-yoing back and forth between being awestruck that this woman loves him, then being torn up inside because she did something to hurt him, then be awestruck again, then torn apart again, etc.

    “Anna is self-absorbed and spoiled. And it’s Will and his ‘ordinary’ family that show her that she can be a better person. So Will is the change-agent for Anna.”

    Is that really though? Because Anna makes literally no remarks on how she became a better person through Will or even ponders if she can be a better person or more normal like he and his found family. The closest thing we get is when she mentions how every time she had a relationship with someone normal it would end in disaster, but we don’t even get any follow up dialogue on that. She just says it, and Will sorta just…ignores it. She’s a fairly static character throughout the movie until the literal last 10 minutes.

    “It’s true that Anna is flawed and trapped in a world where she thinks she can’t escape. Will shows her a way out and she’s a better person when she’s around him. ”

    Will doesn’t really show her a way out. Will is an escape from that life for her, which while similar, is distinctly different. Will does nothing to show or demonstrate to her that she could have a different life. Anna uses Will to escape from her fame as a celebrity and Will just sorta goes along with it, enabling her to do things like invite herself to his sisters birthday or invite herself to stay at his place when she needs to lie low for a while. At no point in the movie do they discuss how she feels like a better person when she’s around him or that she wishes she could have a simpler life with him. You’re right that she’s trapped in a world she thinks she can’t escape from, but Will doesn’t show her a way out, he’s just sorta there. Let’s not forget after all that she kisses him and invites him out (a literal stranger she just met) after he spills orange juice on her. The dude may be charming, but he does literally nothing to try and make her a better person or show her a way out. The closest thing there is to him showing her a way to escape is when he says that the paparazzi being outside his flat means nothing and will probably be forgotten about by the next day, which she promptly refutes by explaining how the tabloids will be there forever, and that just like the internet, nothing is forgotten (which he has no retort or response to).

    “And *that* is the meaning of the story (whether you like schmaltz or not): when we find the right person, we become the best version of ourselves.”

    Except we don’t though. You may become better through that right person, this is true, but finding that person alone does not make you a better person. A moral like what you propose completely ignores all the hard work that goes into building a relationship in the first place and just continues to uphold the whole “I just want someone to accept me for who I am regardless of my flaws” thing without really acknowledging who the person saying that is or what they have to offer in a relationship. Hell, this isn’t even the moral of the movie since literally no one in the movie even says anything remotely close to “when we find the right person, we become the best version of ourselves”. Not Anna, not Will, literally no one. If anything, the moral of the movie may be something along the lines of, “True love does exist, even if its messy at times” since despite all the bullshit Anna pulls on Will, they still end up together. This is further cemented via the bench in the park that’s featured at the halfway point and at the end of the movie with inscription about the couple that always sat beside one another that Anna remarks upon in a wistful manner. Again, nothing in the movie suggests that Anna becomes a better person through Will or even has any interest or desire in becoming a better person (through Will or otherwise).

    • This is a very thoughtful response and I like your arguments. And still, the story works. I’m giving your feedback serious consideration. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  2. I see this thread is alive! Fun to read. My wife and I decided to watch the movie for Velentine’s Day. Had heard vaguely about it, and liked Curtis’ other movies. This one stinks, imho. I agree with much that I read above, and it’s an interesting debate, although to be fair we reconstructed the second half from other sources: just could not stomach any more after an hour. The family and friends were fine, the flatmate was funny, but there was no spark between Roberts and Grant, I did not buy their characters. It was just one set of mannerisms bumping up against another set. I did not think a movie could make me think less of three actors I admire (tossing Alex Baldwin in here). The stuff about the bench was so cliched. Hugh Grant was the bumbling Brit that came to characterize a generation, leaving non-Brits to wonder “how did this lot manage to survive the Blitz?” Just compare other mismatched couple movies, such as Roman Holiday. I’m hoping the new JLo vehicle is better than this movie, although I have my doubts. Maybe you will see it and offer your comments?

    • Yes! I’m surprised this thread is still alive. And thanks for your comments. I hope you stuck around long enough to see the “Ain’t no Sunshine” montage – which in my mind is the best part of the movie. I wonder – what did you think of “Love, Actually?”

  3. Maybe I can youtube the ain’t my sunshine. I think I’ve seen Love, Actually 3 times, and it worked for me all three times (although for none of them was I sober, I think). The weakest parts might be Hugh Grant’s difficulty focussing on his *actual* job, and Colin Firth’s flopping around. Loved the Alan Rickman — Emma Thompson part; the stuff with Liam Neeson and the kid was good (and poignant of course because of the death of NR). Wasn’t there a part with Bill Nighy? He improves everything he is in. Maybe I will have to watch it again — it’s been a while. // Somewhat relatedly, though, have you seen Truly Madly Deeply? I remember it being great — but far fewer laughs?? Someone told me there is a rom com with Meg Ryan’s son that is supposed to be good.

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