Last week's entry in the romantic comedy genre was the Jennifer Lopez-starrer "Maid in Manhattan
," which surprised with its intelligence and big heart. This week it is "Two Weeks Notice," written and directed by Marc Lawrence (who penned 2000's "Miss Congeniality
"), which has the same qualities. The premise is far from an achievement in originality, and the payoff is genuinely predictable, but there is a safenessand undeniable entertainment valueto the film.
Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock) is a liberal lawyer who spends much of her time protesting the demolition of old buildings and land by corporations with more authority than she. She isn't pulling in loads of money, but she truly cares about the causes she fights for. One individual she has often fought against is multimillionaire George Wade (Hugh Grant), who makes money from his company by modernizing communities. Through sheer coincidence, Lucy is offered the chance to be his chief counsel. She accepts George's offer because she figures that being on the insideeven on a side that she does not endorsewill give her more clout in her myriad fights. As the months pass by, Lucy is disgusted that she has allowed herself to become what amounts to a secretarial job. She promptly gives her two weeks notice, but as this time ticks down, Lucy and George discover that their close relationship may be moving beyond mere employee and employer.
There are two basic reasons why "Two Weeks Notice" is such a joy, albeit an undiscriminating one, to watch: Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. Apart, they can make just about any movie watchable (save for 2002's monstrous "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
"). Together, they absolutely sizzle, both bringing sharp comic timing and a humanity to their respective roles. Sandra Bullock (2002's "Murder By Numbers
") hasn't made as many romantic comedies as you might expect, but she makes for a perfectly likable heroine. Her Lucy is written with particular care; she is a crafty Harvard grad with meaningful goals for her life and more than love on her mind. In one nicely conveyed scene, her theme song is exposed to be "Big Yellow Taxi," the classic Joni Mitchell song covered by Counting Crows, which is spot-on for the character.
In recent years, Hugh Grant has really made a name for himself in a number of strong films (2002's "About a Boy
," 2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary
"), and there is a reason why. George is extremely wealthy, sometimes letting it get the best of him, but he is also quite charming. Not only does Grant know exactly how to be endearing even when he is playing somewhat selfish characters, but he can also sell any line of potentially comic dialogue and make it bitingly funny.
The trajectory of the plot developments are unsurprising, at best. We all know that Lucy and George will start off not getting along, but then become friends, and eventually more than that. We know that when their relationship does begin to falter that another love interest for George will arise, here in the form of new chief counsel June (Alicia Witt). And we know that Lucy will become jealous, and George will realize the error of his ways. We know all this, and yet it still works, because the small, unusually smart details surrounding it are what makes the film.
June, for example, is not some stuck-up vixen, but a character that is honest and seems real. There is a lovely scene in which George and Lucy have lunch, and know without saying a single word which parts of their individual meals to exchange with each other. And there is a humorous setpiece in which Lucy overeats and suddenly has to go to the bathroom while stuck in a traffic jam that could have turned out too silly or extraneous. As played by Bullock, she nails the feeling of having to go to the bathroombadlywith actual truthfulness to the uncomfortable situation. Clever in-jokes also occasionally pop up (ranging from references to a character in 2000's "Requiem for a Dream" to 2001's "Donnie Darko
" director Richard Kelly to the maid Rosario on TV's "Will & Grace"), proving writer-director Marc Lawrence's keen, joking eye.
Aside from a few spotty, uneven scene transitions, and a final act that goes on a little longer than it should have, the film miraculously works. The supporting characters in "Two Weeks Notice" are often relegated into the background, but that is how it should be. This is Bullock and Grant's show all the way, and they make the most out of a tried-and-true formula.
©2002 by Dustin Putman