This Friday Bridesmaids director Paul Feig follows up his 2011 summer hit with The Heat, in which he reunites with the ever-hilarious Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls, Identity Theft) to bring us an all-female buddy-cop giggle fest. But it’s not just McCarthy who’ll be bringing the laughs. Her on-screen partner and FBI agent Sarah Ashburn will be played by cinematic stalwart Sandra Bullock.
When considered alongside promotional material for The Heat, trailers for Bullock’s forthcoming performance in the Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (released 18th October) are testament to the diversity of the characters she’s played throughout her career. Yes, there have been many rom-coms, from time-travel mind-bender The Lake House (fans of which should check out Richard Curtis’ upcoming film, About Time, which looks to be in a similar vein) to the forgettable and formulaic (yet outrageously funny) The Proposal, but Bullock has always made use of her skills in gripping and intelligent thrillers and heartrending dramas, too. Here are some of my favourites.
Before starring in The Lake House in 2006, Bullock had first worked with Keanu Reeves in Speed, the debut of Dutch director and cinematographer Jan de Bont. This action-thriller revolves around the planting of a bomb on a LA bus, and cop Jack Traven’s (Reeves) rescuing of the passengers on board. There are just a few problems, as stipulated by the psychotic bomb man (Dennis Hopper); the bomb will detonate if the bus drops below 50mph, or if Jack attempts to remove any passengers.
Bullock plays Annie, a young LA woman in the wrong place at the wrong time. After the bus driver becomes incapacitated she ends up in the driving seat – despite not having a licence. But it’s hardly the time to worry about legalities. Bullock gives a convincing and sometimes humorous depiction of Annie’s frazzled panic. It’s great to see such extreme driving from a female character (even if many of the successes are down to luck rather than skill), but Speed suffers from an all-too-obvious romantic plot – though you’ll probably still find yourself rooting for Annie and Jack in more ways than one.
Sadly both Reeves and his character Jack disappeared with little explanation in the 1997 sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, which did little more than relocate the events of the first film to a cruise ship, adding Titanic-like traits and trading in Hopper for an equally threatening Willem Dafoe. This one’s missable.
Practical Magic (1998)
Despite being adapted from an entrancing Alice Hoffman novel and boasting several faultless cast members – Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest, Goran Visnjic and Evan Rachel Wood – Practical Magic remains underrated. The dramatic storyline centres on multiple generations of the Owens family, in which witchcraft is passed down the female line. This is one of those rare fantasy stories where the characters are so well-realised (as are the performances of the actors) that even supernatural events gain more than a shred of believability.
The film opens with a whistle-stop tour of the Owens’ legacy, but sisters Sally (Bullock) and Gilly (Kidman) become the main protagonists. The dynamic of siblinghood crafted between them is strong in realism, helping to make the following events and their potential implications absorbing for the audience. Sally and Gilly are slightly reminiscent of Austen’s Elinor and Marianne (Sense and Sensibility, in that order). Sally, barely over the loss of her beloved husband Michael, reluctantly helps the more adventurous Gilly with an orthodox spell which aims to bring her on-off boyfriend Jimmy (Visnjic) back to life. This doesn’t exactly go to plan, and the sisters spend the rest of the film trying to rectify the situation, ward off a cop investigating Jimmy’s death, protect Sally’s young daughters and evade the suspicion of their disapproving aunts (Channing and Wiest).
Beautiful Massachusetts scenery captures the world of Hoffman’s novel, although Warner Brothers made some bizarre and seemingly pointless plot changes. Bullock’s performance is just one great reason to watch this thoroughly enjoyable film. If you liked Kidman’s recent turn in Stoker you should check this out.
Miss Congeniality (2000)
When most kids were plonked in front of Disney cartoons for some reason my sister and I were devouring Sandra Bullock movies. We watched the films mentioned here several times, and particular favourites were films penned by New York-based screenwriter Marc Lawrence, including Forces of Nature (1999) and Two Weeks Notice (2002). But among the films Lawrence has written, Miss Congeniality remains a stand out.
In this dramedy Bullock gave us a blend of goofy physical comedy and sensitive intelligence as FBI agent Gracie Hart, who is first hostile but quickly becomes endearing as the viewer is shown the chinks in her protective armour of sarcasm. Bullock is the lynchpin of this film, delivering Lawrence’s witty words to quotable perfection, but her chemistry with Michael Caine, the man tasked with giving the androgynous Gracie a makeover which will allow her to convincingly infiltrate the Miss America pageant as an undercover agent, also provides much humour.
A word of warning about the sequel though – much like Speed 2, it’s far inferior to the original movie, as is so often the case with cinema. Bullock herself once referred to it as “the biggest piece of shit ever made”. (Really, I saw it on an E! Entertainment special).
A Confession, and more to consider
This article was originally intended to follow the ‘five of the best…’ format I’ve used a few times before (check the sidebar), but in writing about some of my favourite Sandra Bullock films I realised that there are a lot I’d like to see again. Some of my enthusiasm doubtless comes from a sort of childish nostalgia (I actually found Miss Congeniality less than gripping the last time I watched it) but I still feel that in Bullock’s career there is a lot to praise; not just in her acting but in her choice of projects. Perhaps The Proposal and the sequels discussed above are exceptions, but my little trip down memory lane has left my wanting to re-watch both The Blind Side, and Crash, in which Bullock actually plays a rather unlikeable character in one of the film’s saddest mini-stories.
An article on the Guardian website announced today that Sandra Bullock comes 7th in a list of the year’s highest earning female movie stars. Although it angers me that there are people earning more money than they will ever need when others have nothing, for me the list fits fairly well with the US actresses I currently admire the most. But I wonder how the salaries of those actresses working outside of Hollywood would compare.