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Chic Flicks to the Rescue

June 15, 2005

Romantic comedies are not known for conveying powerful humanitarian messages, but that might all change once the Hollywood community sees "The Girl in the Cafe," the latest offering from writer-director Richard Curtis.

Best known for his feel-good, boy-meets-girl romances, such as "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually," Curtis has deployed his comedic skills in a very different direction to bring attention to how extreme poverty is causing disease, starvation and death throughout Africa.

He has set "The Girl in the Cafe" against the decidedly unromantic backdrop of a G-8 summit meeting of world powers. The story centers on a shy civil servant, played by Bill Nighy, who strikes up a relationship with a girl in a cafe and takes her with him to the meeting.

Although it contains many of Curtis' trademark plot devices -- a somewhat ineffectual leading man; a defiant, young heroine; supercilious co-workers; embarrassing situations -- the film is also a passionately earnest plea to world leaders to seriously address world poverty.

The "Girl in the Cafe" will be screened -- on HBO in the U.S. and around the world on the international satellite service BBC Prime -- the weekend before this year's G-8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, from July 6 to 8.

Curtis says that when he started talking about the G-8, people either dozed off or thought he was talking about a vegetable drink. He wrote the film, he says, to give people a chance to understand what the G-8 is and how this year's meeting could change the face of extreme poverty forever.

Curtis is to be congratulated on his effort, though it raises the question of whether the suffering in the developing world could have been alleviated if previous romantic comedies had taken a similar path and slipped in pro-development messages wrapped in a love story.

Tom Hanks could have been "Sleepless in Seattle" not only because he was mourning the death of his wife but because U.S. foreign assistance amounted to less than 0.2% of GDP; the e-mail that arrived in "You've Got Mail" could have been a plea from the Make Poverty History campaign; and Harry could have met Sally at a debt-relief rally.

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