Ty Burr explains that when it comes to date movies, letting an ordinary guy win Julia Roberts' heart is a surefire strategy for a male-driven hit

  • Movie

Why men are enthusiastic about ‘Notting Hill’

Seen ”Notting Hill”? Really, really liked it?

Then I’m guessing you’re a guy.

Not that you’ll hate the movie if you’re a woman. It’s just that most of the female-type people I know who’ve seen the new Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant film have acknowledged, when pressed, that they thought it was ”cute” — and this said with notable lack of enthusiasm. Whereas several guys I know (including some who generally run screaming from squishy big-budget date movies with cruddy soundtracks) have ‘fessed up to sitting enthralled through the whole thing, even if they wanted to smack Hugh Grant if he stammered adorably one more time.

Here’s my thinking on this: While ”Notting Hill” is being marketed as a swoony chick flick, it actually taps into a time-honored fantasy and tells it from the man’s point of view. Said fantasy being that you (average schmoe) meet a famous person (movie star, singer, politician, whatever floats your boat) and somehow strike it off, leading to friendship, romance, marriage, cheap motel sex — whatever floats your boat.

You’re telling me you’ve never indulged in this fantasy on a long, dozey plane ride or standing in the checkout line? I am telling you that you are lying. Admit it: It’s human nature to peer under the coverlet of celebrity and wonder about the actual person beneath.

All well and good, and ”Notting Hill” turns this private fantasy into public entertainment about as well as can be expected. If Hugh is a tad too passive-aggressive for my tastes as the average-schmoe bookstore owner and Roberts never quite comes down off her pedestal (that’s the way the role’s written, unfortunately), ”Hill” still gets good comic mileage out of Grant’s ornery circle of friends. And the basic allure of the movie’s premise is strong enough to hold you until the improbable but sweet ending.

But a chick flick this ain’t, inasmuch as the center of empathy here is floppy old Hugh Grant, not imperious goddess Julia Roberts. I’m not suggesting that women are incapable of enjoying the movie as a tale of two people who meet and fall in love against heavy odds. Nor am I implying that guys don’t deserve a date flick of their own every so often (”Swingers” doesn’t count). But I am saying that this movie might be a bigger word-of-mouth hit among the girlfriend grapevine if the genders had been switched. Or, as my wife noted as we left the theater, ”I would have enjoyed that more if it had been a woman bookstore owner having a fling with Sam Shepherd or David Strathairn.”

In that case, I probably would have been bored stiff. And the fact that I look nothing like those two guys has not a blessed thing to do with it.

No, really.

Notting Hill
  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Roger Michell