Sandra Bullock: Clinically Insane Like a Fox

Sandy, the aurora’s rising behind us, the pier lights our carnival life forever
Oh, love me tonight, and I promise I’ll love you forever…

I came to a very important conclusion after Tarini dared me to watch All About Steve: Sandra Bullock is either slyly demented or batshit crazy. I’m not usually one to dish on celebs or speculate on the mental well being of Hollywood actors, but this… This is different. I’m not some paparazzo hiding in her bushes, trying to find out if she feasts on the flesh of the recently deceased. This is simply an outside observer looking at her oeuvre and coming to the only obvious conclusion.

The last two Bullock movies I saw — All About Steve and The Proposal (both of which Tarini dared me to watch, because she hates me, and I watched because I hate myself) — are the sorts of films where every single scene prompts the most vital question in all of cinema: “Why?” When the closing credits finally scroll up, it prompts the second most vital question in all of cinema: “What the fuck did I just watch?”

These are both films held together with a thin veneer of cheesy rom-com, prompting critics and some audience members to disregard them as formulaic fluff. However, I defy anyone to watch either The Proposal or All About Steve and point out anything they’ve ever seen in a movie before. Okay, okay, you have to ignore the very basic plot details and character archetypes and focus on things like, say, Oscar Nuñez playing a manservant/male stripper or an eagle stealing Sandra Bullock’s phone. A fucking bald eagle, the symbol of fucking America. Because the plot called for her to lose access to her cell phone. She could have had a dead battery and no charger. She could have had no cell signal — after all, the movie takes place in Alaska, the last non-Yukon frontier — but no. The Proposal elects to not just have a bird steal her phone — it steals her phone because it initially grabs the family dog and flies off with it, and Bullock rescues the dog by throwing rocks and eventually her phone at it. What the fuck?!

But All About Steve is the Citizen Kane of Bullock’s off-kilter sense of humor, a truly inconceivable film that turns the world’s least likable character (a vaguely autistic “cruciverbalist” who wears red pleather fuck-me boots that other characters think would prevent men from being interested) into a romantic lead, after a meet-cute that involves raping her love interest. (Seriously, ladies: if the genders were reversed, what she does to Bradley Cooper about thirty seconds after meeting him would make this movie Irreversible 2: The Reversal.) I don’t want to spoil the movie — its trainwreck fascination makes it eminently watchable. It’s the Lost Highway of romantic comedies.

It cuts deeper than that, though. This isn’t latent weirdness. For anyone who had the misfortune of watching Comedy Central in the mid-’90s, you’ve undoubtedly seen Love Potion No. 9, perhaps her first lead role (a mere two years before her breakout in Speed). In terms of sheer lunacy, it’s a film that makes The Proposal look like neo-realism. It takes its premise from one of the weirdest/stupidest songs in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and runs with it to the nearest insane asylum. I’d say, “They don’t make movies like that anymore,” but they do. Sandra Bullock continues to make movies like that. Two Weeks Notice, The Lake House (which is more of a dramedy and doesn’t contain the same kind of manic weirdness, but is still pretty fucking odd), Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Forces of Nature, Practical Magic, the two Miss Congeniality movies — her filmography is littered with craziness. Even non-rom-coms like Demolition Man and Speed 2: Cruise Control are pretty batty. She’s like Brendan Fraser, taking serious roles to fill time between her real passion: ludicrous rom-coms.

Speed solidified her as a real presence in American cinema, but it was While You Were Sleeping in 1995 that catapulted her to the pantheon of bankable romantic leads. That is a film with as nutty a premise as anything in the Bullock catalog, but director Jon Turteltaub — who went on to make the crazy-as-anything-Bullock-could-dream-of National Treasure films — managed to keep things uncharacteristically restrained, allowing the characters to recognize and comment on the insanity of the premise and letting most of the comedy come from character rather than wacky situations. Once Bullock had the star power to take the creative reins — she started producing many of her films, including the really crazy ones, starting in 1998 — any sense of reality left the building. These films exist in a surreal cartoon universe reminiscent of those nightmarish Warner Brothers shorts from the early ’30s. Bosko, yikes!

Honestly, I love Bullock for this. She has a consistent, unique comic vision perhaps rivaled only by Judd Apatow (in terms of contemporary success). However, much as I admire the scope and originality of the movies, I must confess that they’re mostly terrible. They’re completely insane, but they don’t make me laugh. That seems like a pretty big problem in films billing themselves a comedies.

On the other hand, I can watch them with the same compulsive fascination I usually reserve for hoity-toity filmmakers like the aforementioned Lynch or Jean Cocteau. They challenge my perception of the world and of what cinema can and should be, even if I don’t exactly like them and will only watch them once (except that fucking Winky’s scene in Mulholland Drive — love that Patrick Fischler!). I also can’t help admiring a bankable Hollywood actor doing exactly what she wants to do. I’m sure studio execs say, “Sandy B. in a rom-com — cha-ching!” But she’s taking the kinds of insane risks you don’t normally see in Hollywood. They shouldn’t pay off financially, but secretly I’m glad they do. I hope she keeps making movies like this for decades to come.


For Wednesday: “Early Day and Shit” (4/14/03) — The first post in “The Crush” arc chronicles a feeble attempt to meet for a group project on King Lear.

For Friday: “Room Service” (4/17/08) — In this post, I stress the importance of vivid but not overly purple descriptions of places and objects. Nothing is more distracting to a reader than developing a mental picture based on the vaguest possible description, only to have the writer add some adjectives later that throw off the mental picture.

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 23, 2011 6:38 PM