For, Oct. 18, 2013

With a new Blu-ray disc being released this week, it's a nice time to look back at the pleasant romantic teaming of Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant for "Notting Hill" (1999), and to ask the question, whatever happened to Hugh Grant?

Well, Grant hasn't actually disappeared. Earlier this year he appeared in "Cloud Atlas," though hardly anyone saw that film, and those who did may have had trouble spotting him under makeup for his multiple roles. And he also did a voice for "Pirates! Band of Misfits." But Grant's last romantic comedy was "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" in 2009, which is also be one of his worst films. Fans will be happy to know that he has a couple of pictures in the pipeline, including the remake of "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," in which he is cast as Waverly … the old Leo G. Carroll role of older authority figure! Hmmm.

Anyway, "Notting Hill" is one of Grant's better efforts, and he really is the lead character, the owner of a specialty bookstore in the small British community of the title. And the store really is specialized — just travel books. But he somehow makes a living and has an employee. Grant's dry delivery of the film's clever quips and his natural charm put this movie a notch or two above the average Hollywood entry.

Roberts essentially plays herself, a worldwide movie star who wanders into his store one day and thus begins an unlikely romance. She's fabulous, of course, and the film manages to be enchanting, if not entirely convincing. Watching it now, the main thing that struck me is that it's rather slow compared to 21st century films, but that's not a complaint. I enjoyed it and felt the meandering pace suited the material quite well.

A wonderful supporting cast helps, and you may spot among the actors playing Grant's circle of friends the patriarch of "Downton Abbey," Hugh Bonneville. I know Rhys Ifans is often singled out as a comic highlight but his crude antics didn't appeal to me in 1999 and they don't appeal to me now. But that's not enough to keep from recommending the film.