I’m a happily married man of many years. As such, it happens that I’m contractually obligated to see a certain number of romantic comedies per annum. As there really haven’t been any romcoms produced of late (what’s up with that, Hollywood?), I’d like to reflect upon one of my favorites (did I just say that?):
Starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, they play variations of themselves (shocking, I know). The more I watch it, the more layers I peel back. Because this movie works on so many levels. It’s a meditation on celebrity, society’s obsession with it, and the consequences of that celebrity.
But mainly it’s about wish fullfilment.
There’s a hang dog, down on his luck book shop owner (I’ll leave it to you to puzzle out who plays this part), and a starlet, whose paths cross in the most ordinary of ways: shopping. Upon their first meeting, Grant’s William Thacker is nonplussed by Julia Roberts’s Anna Scott. In fact, excuses himself to deal with a shoplifter. In our world, one wouldn’t think that such souls would be drawn together, right?
Upon their second meeting, later that same morning, Thacker bumps into Scott, spilling orange juice all over both them. He prevails upon her to tidy up at his house (it being just eighteen yards away). This is where the movie takes a turn. And for years, this particular turn bothered me.
After Scott returns to retrieve a forgotten bag, she kisses Thacker. In what world would a celebrity do this? It doesn’t seem realistic. Yet, the heart is fickle, right? I believe it is her desire for some degree of normalcy which prompts this. This self-effacing, unassuming Englishman represents something she doesn’t have: a normal life.
And for him, the kiss awakens a repressed desire for anything other than the quiet life of obscurity he’s been living.
Each represents for the other a fulfillment of a wish: a dream of a different life.
All of the best movies, in my opinion, awaken a similar longing in us; namely, that there’s got to be more. The late, great C.S. Lewis said that “If I find in myself desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, it stands to reason that I was made for another world.”
This is what the best movies, whether romcoms or otherwise, do: evoke in us that longing for that other world. That world where love never dies, where all is indeed right…
Where there is neither sickness nor pain nor tears… for all of these have passed away. But this is not that world. We are still in Act III of the play.
Notting Hill, despite its flaws, reminds that the path to lasting love is fraught with difficulty. But it is possible to find it. If we are willing to plunge into the pain, confront our demons, and work at it. That love won’t be perfect, and it often works best when we’re willing to lay aside our expectations–our wishes–and embrace what is.
We are all that girl, are we not? Standing in front of someone, asking them to love us…
Someday it will all be worth it.
What do you think? Have you seen Notting Hill?