Sandy Bullock knows her business. She knows what she does well, what viewers like to see her do, and how to put together a package that satisfies most everyone. She also likes to push herself to more difficult work occasionally, doesn’t take gossip too seriously, and collaborates well with others. Bullock looks to be that rarity, a self-aware, brainy, and relatively healthy Hollywood star.
Even with all this going for her, she still runs up against daunting expectations. People keep wanting her to be sweet and feisty like she was in Speed back in 1994 (and everyone knows what happened when that wish was made literal, in the sequel-on-a-cruise-ship). With Keanu otherwise occupied, she’s tried her hand at various genres and leading me, but mostly been confined to girly pictures (Hope Floats and Practical Magic [both 1998], that Ya-Ya movie) or straight-up romantic comedies (While You Were Sleeping , Two if By Sea , or Miss Congeniality, which she also produced). Occasional forays out of her designated area—The Net (1995), 28 Days (2000)—make people (whoever they are) nervous. And so, following one of these, she usually does one of those.
Just this year, in Murder By Numbers she played a homicide detective with intimacy issues (a standard character for men to play) and entered into an offscreen relationship with her younger costar, Ryan Gosling (which generated some predictably unfriendly gossip, though not so much as you might expect). And so now it’s payback time: Sandy must return as you know you love her, in a romantic comedy with an equally generically constricted costar, Hugh Grant.
Co-produced by Bullock, and written and directed by Marc Lawrence (who wrote Forces of Nature and Miss Congeniality), Two Weeks Notice is pretty much what the poster suggests it is: a meeting of opposites who, after some conventional pushing and pulling (including a rather depressingly extended joke about Bullock’s bowel movements), realize they love one another, and engage in a passionate embrace on a New York sidewalk.
Bullock plays Lucy Kelson, brilliant Harvard Law graduate and activist lawyer now living in Brooklyn and eating takeout Chinese every night. She first appears lying (on her yoga mat) in front of a wrecking ball and construction crew, in order to prevent them from taking down a community center. Upon her arrest, her crunchy-granola-type parents (Robert Klein and Dana Ivey) come down to bail her out, as seems to be their practice, and congratulate her on her dedication to the good fight.
Her dedication never wanes, but the form of this fight takes a drastically new turn when she agrees to take a job as head counsel for Forbes cover boy and millionaire developer George Wade (Hugh Grant). On first meeting her, he gasps, “You’re the attorney who lies in front of our wrecking balls!” Her parents disapprove, but, after hearing her come up with press-ready language when asked about the function of a building, he cuts her a deal: he’ll spare her community center if she works for him, le devil. Actually, so that she’s able to fall in love with him, George is more ignorant than wicked. The odious one would be his inflexible brother (David Haig), with a mansion, a treadmill, and a cheerless wife (who makes clear her displeasure when George chats with her maid like she’s his buddy) to show for all his money.
George is only on his brother’s payroll and so not technically responsible for decisions that put people out of their houses or pave paradise to put up a parking lot. He’s just a witty, if rather wifty, fellow without much experience thinking about consequences, content to pay someone to be his friend: Tony (Dorian Missick) “gets the car” and plays chess with him. One of Lucy’s first assignments is to negotiate his divorce, but as he is unable to keep his mouth shut, he ends up giving over millions, out of a combination of guilt and amiability. Still, they make a good team, attending ball games together (apparently so that Mike Piazza can say a quick hello) and deciding on the charities to which he’ll be donating (this being her demand in order to work for him).
While Bullock and Grant are fast enough to get good verbal volleys going, they’re tripped up by prosaic scenes and themes. Most tediously, it emulates the poor-girl/rich-boy dynamic of You’ve Got Mail, with the pretend edge of George’s reputation for sleeping around (though he doesn’t do so in any visible way). This means that the boy is bound to learn a little something about solid community values from the sweet and feisty girl, and she’s bound to learn to loosen up, wear a pretty dress, and forgive his moral lapses.
On the job, Lucy becomes indispensable within days (the timeframe is too-cutely demarcated with titles: “Two Weeks Later,” “Seven Months Later”): George is soon asking her to oversee all legal transactions, of course, but also to select his stationery, food, his clothing, even his dates (he calls her at 2am from a bar to ask about his date for the night, who’s standing right next to him, and whom Lucy advises to seek other company).
Within months, Lucy can take it no longer and gives her titular notice. At first, George is devastated, but then he finds a replacement, another smart Harvard grad, June Carter (Alicia Witt, so adorable while playing foxy that it’s hard to hate on her too much). Unlike Lucy, June is quite happy to play strip chess with her employer. To top off the tough decisions to be made, George’s brother tells him they’ll be killing the community center after all. Lucy stomps off in a huff. Tony, the paid friend and the only black man in the film with a line, is nowhere in sight. Will George do the right thing?
More to the point, will you care whether he does? Whatever Lucy might think she wants, Bullock deserves better. Sure, the movie makes some rudimentary points about scammer-developers and callous rich folks (Donald Trump makes a cameo—if he’s in on the jab, it doesn’t seem very incisive). And sure, Bullock does know what she’s doing. As she tells Zap2it.com, “It’s not rocket science. We’re not curing cancer… It’s a romantic comedy. We’d like it to be funny and romantic and that’s what we’re doing.” Right. So why does it feel like, yet again, she’s lying in front of a wrecking ball?