Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Two Sandras

I didn't imagine this year for Sandra Bullock. Hollywood isn't often kind to its romcom superstars once they near 40. Meg Ryan got the boot at 39 once Proof of Life and the Russell Crowe affair scandal hit. Global love for Julia Roberts cooled at around 37 as soon as she did, speaking figuratively, in Closer. By standard pop-culture/Hollywood timetables everyone will be pretending they never loved Amy Adams, Drew Barrymore and Reese Witherspoon between the years of 2012 and 2015. This is all both a real shame and expected for careers built on warmth and *new romance* appeal in an industry that privileges youth over talent and in a country that's youth-obsessed. Aging is tough enough in real life. Imagine how tough it is for celebrities who are asked to constantly embody our romantic dreams and beauty ideals? But things are getting better for actresses in the grand scheme of things. I mean, the media powers-that-be used to take shots at actresses as early as their mid30s. The resurgent bankability of Meryl Streep is a well-documented and hopefully paradigm shifting success story. Though very few people have ever been able to measure up to Streep at any age, I still consider it a good sign.

Sandra Bullock's age (45) is a non-issue for a super mom story like The Blind Side, which has just become her biggest hit ever (if you don't adjust for inflation -- otherwise it's probaby still Speed) but I thought it was one of the more interesting components of The Proposal, which I finally got around to watching this weekend.

The hit comedy does a rather awkward dance (once very literally -- I don't wanna talk about that dread drumming rap sequence!) trying to juggle its slapstick impulses with its heart-tugging. But it's easy to forgive its messy and crude storytelling since its a project that lives or dies by charm and chemistry. Ryan Reynolds & Sandra have both. Thus, big hit!

Most screen romances between older women and younger men (Ryan is 12 years younger) not only notice the discrepancy but they obsess over it. This one doesn't. The ubiquitous "cougar" pejorative never enters the picture. Instead, the idea that She's the Boss sucks up any and all heteronormative panic that the movie can muster. [Spoilers!] The movie is so nervous about this power imbalance that it effortfully and repeatedly tries to right this "wrong". It has to take place on Reynold's turf (his parent's home) and by his rules (he rewrites her "deal" very quickly) and has to even present him as both the dominating sexual and emotional force of the relationship. It even has to reveal that he's also wealthy. The Proposal is so nervous about this power imbalance that it literally cedes him all the power in the relationship by film's end; Up to and including the totally embarrassing and highly improbable off camera co-worker shout out "Show her who's boss!" when the couple seals their surprise romance with a kiss. [/Spoilers]

Never mind that that kind of public display would get you fired at most corporations (especially since they are technically boss and subordinate -- imagine the legal liabilities) for this is a fantasy. And maybe it's a fantasy that the movie never makes an issue of her age either, but it's still the movie's sole step in a progressive direction. Otherwise the screenplay of The Proposal is pandering regressive stuff throughout. I wanted to offer it up like a helpless fluffy puppy for a bird of prey only... well... it's hard to hate on account of all the cuteness.

Rather surprisingly Sandra's broad comic moments were my least favorite part of the performance. And comedy is her bread and butter. The movie opens with a baldly obvious 'You loved the Devil Wears Prada. You'll love this too!' set up. 'Sandra is a bitch on wheels! Watch her subordinates freak out when she enters the building.' It's a "gird your loins!" comic set piece only it's not funny. Bullock is no Streep. The problem is that Bullock is not very good at playing bitchy. This only worked for her in Crash and then just marginally so. Her screen persona is too warm and cuddly. The thaw of the ice queen is only a fascinating onscreen trope when the queen is believably chilly. She's better at the small comic awkwardness of how and when to touch her fake fiance. Ironically, I thought she was much stronger in the dramatic parts of the film, where she reveals her loneliness, or when she tells Reynolds "I'm scared" when she admits her romantic feelings.

And weirdly, I find the reverse true of The Blind Side: While her overall restraint is admirable (there's a lot of cartoonish mugging, both dramatic and comedic, surrounding her) she's not a gifted enough dramatic actress to make the adoptive mother all that interesting. The true selling point is her indisputable star charisma, which she's smart enough to trust to do the heavy lifting / film carrying. What's finally endearing about the character is the tiny accumulation of comic details. She rarely pushes a laugh line but she still gets laughs.

in conclusion
Sandra Bullock "The Blind Side" > Sandra Bullock in "The Proposal"
(but her Blind Side comedy > Blind Side drama and her Proposal drama > Proposal comedy)
it's so confusing!

The Proposal > The Blind Side
(totally. though it's a low stakes contest)

Which Sandra do you prefer? And would you have nominated her for that comedic Golden Globe? Or do you still think she was best in Speed (1994) and While You Were Sleeping (1995) because... maybe I do.


Walter L. Hollmann said...

That "chanting" scene actually made me put my face in my hands. That and the "show her who's boss" line. I was alone in my room and said, "Ugh!" out loud.

But yeah, I liked both movies. I could watch The Proposal when it reruns on TBS, and The Blind Side I found to be pretty good, no matter how hard Jae Head tried to convince me to hate it. I'd give Zooey the Globe nom over her, though.

Kelsy said...

I have an undying love of Sandra Bullock mostly due to innumerable viewings of While You Were Sleeping. And while I prefer my Bullock in the 90s, she never chooses roles in movies that suck my feminist soul dry. They may be roles in mediocre films, but at least it's not 27 Dresses.

adam k. said...

I do remember REALLY liking While You Were Sleeping back when it came out and I was like... 10? But I haven't seen Sandra in much since then. I'll get out to see The Blind Side eventually... I'm sure it'll be playing for many weeks.

But right now I have the flu : (

Karen said...

I haven't seen her in The Blind Side but I'm a long-time fan. She was great in While You Were Sleeping, Miss Congelity, Speed, Love Potion #9, Crash and The Proposal. If I had to award her with a Golden Globe nom it would be for While You Were Sleeping or Crash.

tim r said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim r said...

I would have nominated her for The Lake House. I'm quite serious! She's great in it.

Ele said...

Since there is already some Oscar talk for Sandra in the Blind Side, I am going to come out and say this: her nomination would be another Julia Roberts/Erin Brockovich moment. Not at all deserving for the role per se, but the Academy feels compelled to celebrate her rom-com queens now and then. (Don't get me wrong, I love them both, but Oscar-deserving? I don't think so..)

Also, Sandra, don't try and win a Globe over Meryl. She will show you who's the boss...

Anonymous said...

I agree. I found her warmth and comedic ease in the earlier parts of "The Blind Side" better than her attempts at being "dramatic" at the end. She's beautiful and charismatic but she does not have the big dramatic guns (Hello Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep) to really bring it home at the end when the shit starts hitting the fan. I feel like she was prob a bit intimidated by the character/film (as she probably was in "Crash") and in fluffier fare like "Practical Magic" or as you said "The Proposal" she can handle the dramatic elements with aplomb. I still don't think anything she does will touch "Speed". She SCREAMED movie star in that film.

- Sean C.

Mickche said...

so, are we saying that All About Steve didn't happen this year?

Jim T said...

Damn you Oscar season! You made Nathaniel write a piece about Bullock!


Unknown said...

I don't have a problem with Sandra Bullock's likely Oscar nod for The Blind Side because I like her and it's hard to get too riled up about a nice movie star getting some recognition. But I resent people comparing her chances to the Julia Roberts win. Erin Brockovich is a fantastic movie and Julia Robert is wonderful in it. Blind Side and Bullock have nothing on it.

Alex said...

I was okay with this happening to Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon, but now with Sandra Bullock getting the promotion from romantic comedy queen to Oscar nominee (hopefully she doesn't win a la Roberts and Witherspoon), I am so mad on behalf of Meg Ryan.

Cinesnatch said...

Speed will always be her best performance. IMO, it's the only reason to watch the film once.

And she's earned the double GG love. The GG's have their own set of standards, and she's met them, so she's earned the recognition.

And, I love an actress having two hits in one year whose been in the business for twenty years, especially considering her bankable longevity. Looks like that's gonna happen with two different ladies this year. Yay!

I don't hold my breath when it comes to box office successes for female actors. Every high is followed by a low. But, I just love it when they happen.


@Walter -- you know it's bad when you say "ugh" to yourself out loud ;)

@Kelsy -- you don't find The Proposal sexist? I do. I mean not malevolently so of course. Just sort of there in the background. The woman really should NOT be the boss seems to be the subtext.

@TimR -- really? This is very much news to me. Should I actually watch that?

@Sean -- interesting note about "intimated by..." I wonder how often that comes into it with big stars. This will probably anger some people since we're still in a mostly loving Amy Adams place. But I get that sense in a couple of her performances actually. Mostly Charlie Wilson's War. There's something tentative when she's with mammoth stars that I don't think reads well. Especially since she's got the big star level of charisma.

@Alex -- I KNOW! Because Meg Ryan was really quite amazing at romantic comedy. I mean moreso than some of her fellow superstars. But people really turned on her.


@Mickche -- i have no idea what you're talking about


Cinesnatch said...

Nice piece, BTW. I haven't seen The Proposal, but it sounds about right when it comes to The Blind Side. I do think she showed the proper amount of restraint for the role. But, she doesn't have the right dramatic gravitas to play such a reserved character as well as it could be played. She's just too down to earth. (which is probably why she nailed the more subtle comic moments.) But, that's part of her charm. But, I can't think of one actress (not even Julia Roberts) who could have delivered the box office numbers she has. Wow, she's, like, gangbusters. Love it. I am so happy for her. (and women in Hollywood in general)

Hayden said...


Have you considered that the 10-wide Best Picture category will forever eliminate the notion of a "lone director" slot? I think it's kind of a sad loss, personally.

Alex said...

Even when Meg Ryan gave a good solid dramatic performance (WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN, anyone? SAG nominee...) they refused to pay attention. Is there any way she could possibly snag a role like Barbara in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY anymore? As long as Sandy doesn't get it...

Glenn Dunks said...

Bullock in Speed is one of my five top Best Actress contenders from that year. No joke, I think she is legitimately excellent.

I have a love for Sandy though that is very unwavering. She was perhaps the first actress I was obsessed with, constantly rewatching her movies (Speed, While You Were Sleeping, The Net, etc) and think she's quite fine a lot of the time, but this decade has been tough after Miss Congeniality. I was surprised she didn't get much traction for Crash, but there ya go.

Having said that, I still haven't seen The Proposal and The Blind Side isn't out here yet.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I kept telling everyone The Proposal was sexist, but thanks to beer commercials, the sexism has to be written on a barn for anyone to see it anymore. I mean, once you start with the powerbitch characterization, it's hard for a studio to want to do anything except start apologizing for the woman.

I'm resigned to having to see The Blind Side over my rural Xmas when there's nothing else to do, even though I already pretty much hate it.

Also, are you telling MARSHA MASON it's difficult for a comedic actress over forty? Is this possible? I dunno, I'll go back to my cave and think it over. Or my pet monkey's funeral.

joe burns said...

I think her best work is probably Crash and then Miss Congeality.

rosengje said...

I really enjoyed your reading of The Proposal. While I instantly forgot about the movie after I saw it (at ShoWest! Not my fault!), I was kind of pleased that they didn't really make a big deal about the age difference. But the issues you raised about consistently dampening the power dynamic definitely rub me the wrong way. Especially because of the film's history-- wasn't it written by a male agent/studio exec who was masquerading as a woman to see if he could get the script produced? Did this happen entirely in my imagination?

Derek said...

I'm a longtime Bullock fan - before I had any taste in movies - and I haven't been able to drop her, despite her consistent disappointments for me.

Nathaniel, given your disdain for Bullock made clear through remarks in other postings, I grimaced when I saw the title of this post, and read with caution... and I was pleasantly treated to a fair take with an open mind.

Dean said...

I'll put my two cents in as a Southerner who happens to be an Ole Miss fan and has grown up with women much like Leigh Anne Tuohy. Sandra Bullock nails it. I really think she made a genuine character out of a screenplay that left alot to be desired. Her accent was spot on and she portrayed Tuohy in a way that her Christian beliefs really came through. The Blind Side has been the most talked about movie among my family and friends in a long time and I think that's directly attributed to Mrs. Bullock. In my eyes she is more than deserving of a nomination by the Academy.

Nigel said...

I'm locking it in - Sandra Bullock is going to win Best Actress. And I say this as someone who really can't stand her work.

Lucky said...

I agree about Amy Adams. We are all in love with her right now, but she fits that movie-star-who-people-will stop-caring-about-in-a-couple-of years profile. Which is a shame, 'cause she's a good actress.

And I can see that intimidation thing. The ironic thing is, it worked for her in Doubt.

mrripley said...

I like Sandra but dram is not her forte she is always playing it too cute and does so often in the blind side like we are watching a remake of goldie hawns wildcats from 1984,goldie who i always think is v much like bullock.

Comedy is her forte and she excells when the mterial is strong miss congeniality,while you were sleeping and two weeks notice.

I liked the proposal but agree bitchy is not her but i loved her line deliery "A L A S K A" E but the chanting scene after hearing so may bad things i skipped.

I thought she deserved the globe after kidman in 95 and i think she does a sharon stone and wins the drama globe this year but meryl wins the comedy globe most definitely.

Nat were do you think her career goes from here and why has no one cooled on her yet,Roberts is no longer as bankable and Ryan is caught in dtv hell.


I say


FilmReel said...

The double-standard being used on Sandra Bullock is horrible. Is Bullock the greatest actress ever to grace the silver screen ? No, not at all. Has her movie (The Blind Side) put people in theatre seats ? Absolutely. It doesn't matter if the cyber Oscar snobs care for her or not , the voting members of various groups (SAG & GG) clearly care for her.

Also, everyone is knocking her pedigree. She is a 'romcom' actress (God, I hate that phrase). And to be honest, a decent one at that. People are so vile in their criticism of her but it has 15+ years since she first came to prominence and she is still making films. She must be doing something right !!!

And one more thing. Mo'nique is going to win Best Supporting Actress. That seems pretty cut and dry. And she deserves it. It wouldn't surprise me if they gave her two Oscars. But let us look at Mo'nique's body of work. Hmm....'Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins", "Phat Girlz", "BeerFest", etc. And let us not forget her distinguished stint as the Headmistress of VH1's 'Flavor of Love Girls : Charm School'. And you dare criticize Sandra Bullock ?

Sandra Bullock is going to receive an Oscar nomination. End of story.


But FilmReel did you actually read the post? I feel like people get so defensive and I'm not even attacking her. I think it was interesting that her strengths in both performances were opposite of what I thought they'd be.

and I do think she's really good in The Blind Side (if not Oscar nomination worthy).

and i am often uncomfortable with the idea that people should win oscars solely based on the fact that they've been around forever. This is what robbed Michelle Pfeiffer of her Oscar when she was 1000 times better than the elderly lady they wanted to honor for her "career" even though that career was mostly not even on the movie screen!

sorry. career awards are problematic unless the person is actually deserving for that particular award OR (there are exceptions) there isn't anyone that *MUST* be honored that year for something truly brilliant.

FilmReel said...

I wasn't criticizing your post. Not at all. It was a very fair assessment of Miss Bullock.

My comments were a rant at the general attitude towards Bullock found on various sites.

My apologies. I should have stated such in my comment.

FilmReel said...

I should have wrote, "And people dare criticize Sandra Bullock".

Again, my apologies.

Alexis said...

so what you're trying to say Nathaniel is...that If the women who Hollywood (i mean the general public) adores, like Diaz or Aniston, can go past giving a good but not so great performance and the movie earns a lotta cash,they would automatically get nominated over showpieces such as Abbie Cornish in Bright Star or Tilda Swinton in Julia who deserves another Oscar for that performance imho.


@ALEXIS ... i don't think i said anythign like that (the post isn't about the Oscars but about her performances in those two movies) though I do generally believe that that's true yes. Mainstream stars are far more likely to get nominated for "best they've ever done" type of work than brilliant non-household name performers are to get nominated for genius performances. Cynical maybe but i believe history backs that up. It's the old "WE DIDN'T KNOW THEY HAD IT IN THEM!" boost plus the "career achievement" factor plus the fact that the Academy is a mainstream institution, no matter how much the media likes to pretend that they're elitist snobs when they ignore a blockbuster or two. You don't see them nominating Desplechin and Weerathesakul for "best director" you know. ;)

I heartily agree that Tilda Swinton deserves the Oscar.

Urey said...


"The Proposal" > "The Blind Side"

Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side" > Sandra Bullock, "The Proposal"

I'll go with that.

Urey said...

And thanks for that post, FilmReel.

Anonymous said...

She may not have been the best performance of the year, but winning an Oscar isn't always about that...if it was, there is no way in hell someone like Reese Witherspoon would own one for Walk The Line. Sometimes we reward our movie stars for being stars, and really Sandra has stood the test of time well...better than Julia Roberts.I predict she will win at The Globes and maybe even The SAG's.

FrenchGirl said...

the only time i liked Sandra Bullock is in "while you were sleeping" and "the net"!

Arkaan said...

I like Sandra Bullock. By all accounts, she's a generous, kind human being (I've heard a number of positive things from the "little people" who've worked with her), and I can't begrudge her success, even if I have no interest in it (I haven't seen any of the three films this year). If she gets an oscar nomination, I'll be fine with it. It's gone to people I like less and to performances I've loathed.

Anonymous said...

Well, sadly this year it seems like they're rewarding two careers, Streep's and Bridges'. Not their best performances, but they're still winning.

cal roth said...

This gal is my personal Renee Zellweger. HATE her.

Paul Outlaw said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again (and I'm sure this won't be the last time). Bullock could be this year what Cher in Moonstruck was in 1987 and Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle was in 1940: a popular veteran heading toward her first (and in the above cases, only) Best Actress nod and win.

Cher was 41, and although she'd only been a movie star for a couple of years, she'd been a presence in the industry for over twenty; Ginger Rogers was only 29, but she'd been in pictures since she was 18 and had already filmed nine of her ten outings with Fred Astaire. Rogers, like Bullock, had another big film (Primrose Path) that year (it got a supporting nod for one of its actresses); Cher had The Witches of Eastwick and Suspect, a box office hit and a critical success for her, respectively.

It could happen.

joy said...

Cant believe nobody mentioned her performance in "Infamous". I think it's far and away her best dramatic work and i even prefer her Harper Lee over Catherine Keener's.

Bluefish said...

My top ten SaBu performances:

1. While You Were Sleeping
2. Speed
3. Infamous
4. The Blind Side
5. Crash
6. Murder by Numbers
7. The Lake House
8. Miss Congeniality
9. The Proposal
10. Wrestling Ernest Hemingway