Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Question for the week of Mar 31 - Apr 6: Most Painful Romcom Line

Today's question is so easy to answer. Notting Hill:
I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.
- Anna Scott, fictitious actress/destroyer of words

On one hand, I can totally appreciate the need to bring things back to basics and to just have a simple expression of feelings. It's struck me - since I was like 16, no less - that adults get caught up in emotional complications, instead of thinking about their situation in ways that focus on underlying facts (e.g., X and I love each other, why get worried about incompatible families/ethnicities/etc). And it's good to go back to basics: this person treats you right is the most basic yes/no, and it's pretty much the most vital one.

However, Julia Roberts was 32 years old when NH came out; her role is not a girl, she's a woman. Her character, Anna Scott may be doing herself - and the object of her affection - a disservice by acting like she's just some simple, ignorant kid.

And the biggest rejoinder to that idea is something I half-agree with NH about: the dynamic of two people liking and accepting each other IS, at heart, very simple.

For the above reason alone, I don't want to pile on this scene. That and the fact that so many aspects of Notting seem worse - misjudged, sloppily superfluous, or indulgent. The point of the movie is "omigod, could the biggest starlet in Hollywood like a normal guy" - and even that's probably not its biggest flaw.

But, in the end, it's the last reason that decided my overall attitude: this is an insanely cheesy line, and awkwardly-written to a ludicrous degree. Seriously, whenever people speak about themselves in the third person, you're dealing with some potentially rough lines.

Julia's charm may help to almost sell it, for some, but her quick speech here is the sort of thing I would like to show to a series of writers and screenwriters, and to take a poll of who thinks those words would not have survived into a second draft. Something in me likes to believe that it wouldn't.

I know that it's weird to be too serious about a romantic comedy, but this isn't a romance between teens or college-aged people; he owns a book shop (in a sweet, pricey part of London), she's a successful actress, and both of them are in their 30s. But my reticence here grows even stronger with my second point.

Putting aside their age, if you watch the scenes at the very end of the film, Notting Hill really really seems to be pushing for this almost-offensive degree of wish-fulfillment - a world where the charming cute guy whose worst flaw is being too English gets to live in extravagant glory with a relatively sane, quite beautiful movie starlet.

There is no indication that they will ever face any adversity save for very nosy reporters. So while the "I'm just a girl" line may be meant to make these people relatable, their romance and lives and future will connect with, what, 30 people on the planet?

I'm saving NH's final few minutes for a post on worst rom com endings...


  1. I happen to like Notting Hll but do agree that the line is awkward. Part of the reason that I enjoy it so much is that the film's director Roger Mitchell(who also directed one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations,Persuasion) has a knack for blending in touches of realism into standard romantic fare.

    For one thing, the majority of the Brit cast act and look like regular people you would meet on the street(in London) and that everyday quality works for both Roberts' Hollywood star and Grant's bumbling bookstore owner(also love the bookstore aspect and many of those scenes as well).

    To me, the sentiment behind Anna's statement about being a girl is that she's trying to tell him "Hey, I'm a real person just like you and yes, when all of this is said and done, I want to be in a real relationship." Yes, it may not be as down to earth as either character wants their connection to be but just like any other relationship of a romantic nature, a bit of boldness is required to make that crucial step. That's how I see it,anyway.

    1. It's amazing, because Notting Hill actually does have some nice elements. I get caught up by a few particular aspects of it, and that line, and the terrible closing 3+ minutes of the film (which I'll actually post about later).

      But yeah, the bookshop, realistic secondary and tertiary characters (although it does skew towards the "freaks and geeks collective"), and Roberts' Garbo impression are all nice.

      I like the idea behind the line just fine, especially as you've expressed it, but wow did the execution suck.

      I'm supposed to see Persuasion this weekend! It's been a long time since I just went over to someone's place, had some wine and cheese, and watched a British period piece. I hope I enjoy this version of it!

  2. OK, catching up on my commenting for the week. I'm going to make the embarrassing admission that I kinda love that line. It's the most memorable thing about that movie (for me personally, the only memorable thing about that movie--when I try recalling Notting Hill, my mind inevitably starts mixing in characters and lines from better Hugh Grant romcoms like 4 Weddings and a Funeral).

    The "I'm just a girl..." stuff works because it references Hollywood-speak (the "boy meets girl, etc etc" plot) and because she's humbling herself in front of a guy she's wronged. The diminutive makes sense given that she's trying to fend off the charge that she's too big a deal to be with him.

    (The real groaner in that sequence is the "We have title!" moment, that precedes it "I live in Notting Hill, you live in Beverly Hills. Everyone in the world knows who you are. My mother has trouble remembering my name." Grant does a great job delivering this clunky behemoth, but that's still some awkward stuff.)

    Then again, you may see fit to disregard my opinion, given that I'm still a pretty staunch defender of "You complete me" and You had me at hello" from Jerry Maguire.

    1. Well, yeah, different strokes for different folks. I like Tango & Cash...

      As I said, I do not recognize nice elements in the moment, but yes, the whole conversation is... a little problematic for me. I just like to highlight that one line.

      You are, however, unquestionably right that the line does work nicely as a response to their in-scene problem. I should've pointed that out. Thank you!

  3. I cringe every time I hear that line. But it's a pity that it's the most quoted and referenced and sound-byted line of dialogue from the movie. The fact that it caught on I guess is a measure of success. But I still hate it.

    1. Hahaah, talk about failing upwards, right? Thanks, Doc! It's... A very, very hit-and-miss movie.


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