Who's been keeping an eye on Sandra Bullock? She slipped out of sight there for a while, only to resurface with two movies on the horizon that leave more questions than answers. Bullock has made a career out of being the intelligent, pretty girl who can get the laughs. She's never stuffy or truly aggressive in her films, at least not to great success, but she plays fussy and uptight, or grumpy and sweet with a surefire verve and uncanny enthusiasm. When she's on, Sandra Bullock is just plain fun to watch. So what exactly is going on here?
Why Can't She Seem To Get Serious?
For a respected and versatile actress, it's strangely surprising that she's been unable to make a transition from quirky laugh-factory to serious grown-up actress. She simply can't hold down a darker film on her own. Her foray into more serious work was met with heavy sighs and scant recognition, most recently with the problematic yet Oscar-winning Crash, and moving on into the time-traveling mess The Lake House, the "overshadowed by Capote" Infamous, and the under-rated Premonition. The problem is they were laughed at, derided, or even worse, simply ignored. The poor thing couldn't seem to catch a break. Left with nothing but the tried and true Sandra Bullock formula, she seems to have vowed a return to her comic roots, and to make them laugh.
Why A Stalker Film?
All About Steve puts Bullock in a kind of odd disguise, with frumpy blonde hair, "freakish" clothing and "eccentric" personality traits. After one date, a young woman named Mary falls for a man who films the weather reports, and follows him across the country. She does crossword puzzles! She stalks Bradley Cooper! All this is meant to somehow bring the lovable character of Mary to life, but happens to leave the viewer with an uneasy feeling. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this entire enterprise is that Bullock seems to think this stalkerish mess is a good idea. Surely there is a way to return to the pleasantly amusing drone of her comic work without resorting to such frightening characters as what this All About Steve business offers up without apology.
We are meant to laugh, to sigh, perhaps even to see ourselves in the mirror that is Mary's blundering lurch towards true love. But much like a train wreck, one simply feels uncomfortable staring, and childish for looking away.
Why Does The Proposal Exist?
The Proposal finds Bullock playing fierce and insistent to Ryan Reynolds' stammering idiot savant. Circumstances are such that the overbearing boss (Bullock) must marry her assistant (Reynolds) in order to stay in the country and continue working. The main interesting crux here seems to be that this role puts her in stark opposition to the slightly crazy, but probably harmless, individual she plays in All About Steve. Instead, she is pushy, forceful and controlling. We're supposed to be a little scared of her, but attracted all the same.
Oh so many questions. How did such a formulaic script get the green light? Does this film consist entirely of shoving and playful punching? Nothing in that trailer brought even a smile to the face of anyone in the theater I saw it screened in. Instead it was met with stony silence and thoughtful munching of popcorn. When the best jokes are in the trailer, and none of them are funny, that is a very bad sign. And I hate to say this, but doesn't she look a little old for her age in the movie? Isn't that maybe part of why it's weird that she and her assistant are getting married? Which leads me to...
What Is She Trying To Pull?
Far be it for me to criticize a woman in Hollywood for her age, but there's something slightly off about both The Proposal and All About Steve. Bullock seems to be reaching, attempting to look and act much younger than she really should (though the truth is that she probably looks better at 45 than she did at 35). It'd be nice to see her settle into her age instead of trying to ever-so-slightly fudge the numbers. I guess the kinds of comedic roles afforded a woman edging into that age bracket are the zany wife or kooky mom, and Bullock always manages to put the finishing touches on a different sort of woman. Her characters over-emphasize how capable they are, how easily they manage, only to have it all come crashing down around them despite the best of intentions. As she ages, this becomes less relatable, less touching, and begins to become frightening.
Can't We Just Laugh Again?
Bullock was at her best in films such as Speed, While You Were Sleeping, Miss Congeniality, even the formulaic Two Weeks Notice was a welcome reprieve from such sad displays as Hope Floats and Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. She's hurt now, that much is obvious as America turned its back on her when she tried her hand at something new and more serious. Here's to hoping that Bullock finds what she's looking for, the perfect role that allows her to shine the way we know she can. When that role comes around, we Americans will happily plunk our money down to visit, and laugh, with our old friend once again.