This weekend I watched the film Notting Hill, and whether I wanted to or not, I viewed it with a feminist lense. The film stars Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. Julia’s a famous film star that falls for an ordinary, bookstore owner, Hugh Grant. Their path to true love is a bit rocky since Julie flirts with Hugh while still being in a relationship with her famous boyfriend. After breaking Hugh’s heart, she returns to his place for solace when naked pictures of her surface in the tabloids. They have a romantic weekend until the press finds where she is. She leaves and breaks Hugh’s heart once again. When she returns to Notting Hill to film another movie, she goes to him asking, “After all… I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” At first Hugh turns her down but then realizes he made a terrible mistake, so he chases after her, comedy ensues, and they have their happily ever after.
I think one of the reasons I wanted to watch this movie again was because Alex Dunphy on Modern Family uses the Julia Roberts line to ask a boy she likes to kiss her in a recent episode. Okay, I love romantic comedies. I’m the girl staring hopefully at the screen during the infamous “I’ll love you forever. We’ll ride off into the sunset and be happy forever” kiss at the end of films, but the end to Notting Hill made me a bit uneasy.
While relationships are difficult and do have their ups and downs, there is something I cannot accept about their relationship. Hugh ignores that Julia used him while she still had a boyfriend. She used his home and heart when she was in trouble, and then easily slipped back into her old life without him. There is something unauthentic about their love since Julia Roberts never seemed committed to it until the last ten minutes of the movie. She also belittles herself at the end of the film. She’s not just a girl. In the film, she’s an amazing actress and strong woman. On the other hand, maybe Julia Roberts is playing a “real” woman. A woman that is confused about her feelings, needs time to sort them through and isn’t perfect.
I’m sitting here wondering if all romantic comedies fall into a trap of conforming to happy endings and stereotypical gender roles. It makes me think about some of my favorite films and how they compare… Just something to think about on a dreary Monday afternoon.