Star Stricken

The tagline for Notting Hill reads, "Can the most famous film star in the world fall for the man on the street?" A more honest version would be "Can the moviegoing public fall for the same old crap again?" Yes, on both counts, apparently. Notting Hillcynically merges Hollywood gloss and smarminess with an overwrought but highly exportable English taste for quirk. It is not, the filmmakers stress, a sequel to Four Weddings and a Funeral (which writer Richard Curtis was also responsible for), but it fits the latter-day Hollywood definition of the term—same movie, only worse.

Julia Roberts plays Anna Scott—"Hollywood's biggest star by far," we're informed in a tacky opening montage of flashbulb explosions and magazine covers. Hugh Grant is William, the man on the street (though the street happens to be situated in a snooty-boho West London enclave), a divorcé who owns a not very profitable travel bookshop (signifying smart, sensitive, vulnerable). One day Anna walks into William's store. He's flustered, she buys a book and leaves; shortly after, on the street, he spills a drink on her. From this serendipitous double whammy begins an exasperating, desperately predictable, start-stop romance—scored in literal-minded fashion to r&b-lite love songs and packed with cloyingly cute setups. William crashes a junket and pretends to be a journalist; Anna hangs out with commoners and discovers the pleasures of slumming; William declares his love—at a press conference.

All the bumps in this relationship arise from Anna being a self-absorbed bitch who's prone to actress-y hissy fits. Which brings us to the prespun, media-ready question at the heart of Notting Hill: is Julia Roberts playing herself? A moot point, really, since there are few moments where Anna Scott resembles an actual person. Curtis spikes his screenplay with smirky gestures that pass for pomo self-deprecation. Within minutes of meeting William's pals, Anna reveals to all that she's been on a diet for 10 years, that she's had plastic surgery twice, and that she is, in fact, a terrible actress. When Anna and William are besieged by paparazzi, she shrieks at him that the scandal will be in her "clip file" forever—not unlike Divine Brown, she neglects to add.

Notting off: Roberts and Grant take in a movie.
Clive Coote
Notting off: Roberts and Grant take in a movie.

Details

Notting Hill
Directed by Roger Michell
Written by Richard Curtis
A Universal release
Opens May 28

The Loss of Sexual Innocence
Written and directed by Mike Figgis
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Opens May 28

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As in Four Weddings, the Grant character is surrounded by a gaggle of less attractive friends whose primary concern in life, it seems, is his emotional well-being. Curtis has switched some defining traits around: for instance, the kooky chick isn't Grant's flatmate but his sister; there's still a kooky flatmate, but he's a Welsh slob. The mawkish resolution is, even by Nora Ephron standards, risible, hinging on a single objectionable line ("I'm just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him to love her"). Roberts is called upon to deflect plot glitches and bad dialogue with her klieg-light beam. Grant, as usual, relies on exaggerated social clumsiness—a curious, passive- aggressive variation on charm that's growing uglier by the minute.

Mike Figgis's The Loss of Sexual Innocence is a serious miscalculation—the film isn't short on ideas, it's just that those ideas are dumbfoundingly pretentious and trite. The movie opens in elusive, mildly seductive mode, but as soon as the director's designs become clear, it's one long free fall. Composed entirely of fragments, The Loss of Sexual Innocence is, on one level, a psychological sketch of Nic, a filmmaker and quite likely Figgis's alter ego, whom we see at four different ages, and who's played as an adult by Julian Sands. Nic's story is intercut with scenes of a biblical idyll on the verge of being shattered—a black Adam and a white Eve rise from a lake, discover each other's privates, pee into the lake; a white horse, a snake, fruit, and sex are also involved. Think The Blue Lagoon, as brought to you by Benetton.

The mood is stone-faced and heavy-lidded, exacerbated by Kieslowski-esque plot turns, ridiculously frequent fades-to-black, and a sanity-threatening score (repetitive loops of numbingly familiar classical piano pieces—"Moonlight Sonata," Chopin nocturnes). The movie obsesses pointlessly over connections between sex and death (and between sex and bad stuff in general). The lustrous, couture-ish photography by Benoit Delhomme (who's worked with Tran Anh Hung) actually has an adverse effect—it makes the movie seem even more like torturous Eurotrash.

 
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