Release Date: June 2009
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds
Screenwriter: Pete Chiarelli
Pitch: A tyrant of a book editor attempts to avoid deportation to (shiver in your parkas)
What works: Yes, what does work? I’ve been struggling with this. As a romantic comedy, it left my funny bone feeling like it was broken. And yet somehow I cared about the hokey final scene. I don’t think I ever bought that Sandra Bullock’s character was the monster that the email alerts warning of her arrival told us she was several times in the opening frames. Show, don’t tell. Sure, she fires a guy, but he’s apparently a lazy guy who doesn’t even bother to call a client about an Oprah appearance and, worse, is an adulterer. We’re supposed to find Bullock ruthless? She does require the Ryan Reynolds character to work the weekend and miss granny’s 90th birthday and she’s apparently quite demanding about having her specialty coffee ready. It just doesn’t seem enough. Miranda Priestly lite. There was nothing wrong with the beginning scenes in establishing character, but they just weren’t enough in and of themselves. She has to say some horrendous things to Ryan’s character and that never seems to occur.
So things start flawed. As in so many romantic comedies, the lovers are supposed to loathe one another in the beginning. Ryan hates Sandra. Got it. Sandra rolls over Ryan? Maybe.
And then we get to the humor or lack thereof. Betty White! I was ready for her to spar with Sandra. The affable granny bearing her dentures when no one else sees it. But no! Betty is more Rose Nylund than Sue Ann Nivens. A shame. Even in Rose mode, it isn’t enough. She does an aboriginal dance. That’s supposed to be wacky?! And poor Mary Steenburgen. This is the same actress who one an Oscar for her role in 1980’s “Melvin and Howard” and played such a fully formed, compelling character in 1983’s “Cross Creek”. It’s been a painful decline ever since. Here she has nothing to do but be happy for her son and annoyed with Craig T. Nelson (playing a typical Craig T. Nelson character). These recognizable actors don’t get to stand out in any way.
There’s the eagle-takes-dog scene that probably generated some laughs in the theater. (Later, when Bullock finds herself in the woods, I worried there was going to be a groaner of a scene with a bear. I upped my rating by a half star, thanking the film for not going there.) The male stripper? Shrug. The naked collision between Sandra and Ryan? Maybe. If anything, that much talked about scene only surprised and distracted me in that Bullock’s belly seemed fleshier than I’d expected. I think this scene, more than anything about the writing, brought viewers to the movie. To be more specific, Ryan Reynolds’ buff body brought the Box Office.
Where it fumbles: Oops. I think I talked about fumbles above. Couldn’t help myself. I think it comes down to Bullock’s character not being fully established. I’ll admit I’ve never thought Bullock has acting chops and here she fails to convey enough ruthlessness and self-absorption to make her ultimate change that much of a transformation. It’s not just Bullock’s fault. It feels as if some opening scenes were cut—as if producers (and Bullock is one of them) didn’t want beloved Sandra to come off as TOO unlikable. (Odd. Her best role was in “Crash” when she was thoroughly unlikable.) If you don’t set the tone right in the beginning and your supporting characters have little to do except repeatedly say, “Come on, dear. We’re taking you out. Just the ladies”, then there isn’t much to see.
Well, except for Ryan Reynolds’ abs.