For much of the period between 1989’s Rob Reiner classic When Harry Met Sally… and her 1998 reunion with Nora Ephron and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, the queen of the romantic comedy was undoubtedly Meg Ryan. America’s Sweetheart Julia Roberts came closest to knocking her off the throne, providing massive hits whenever she dipped her foot in the genre – the instantly iconic Pretty Woman and the eternally quoted Notting Hill – but never lingered long enough to truly break the Queen’s reign. There were other challengers here and there, but most were either too flash in the pan or just generally disinterested to ever be considered a genuine threat. It left Ryan to rule over her landscape like an unstoppable overlord swatting contenders away like flies, to the extent that her name quickly became synonymous with the genre itself.
It wasn’t until 1995 that a worthy adversary finally arrived. Sandra Bullock’s breakthrough came in the action classic Speed as the charming and funny foil to Keanu Reeves’ hero, before she quickly realized her true calling in the rom-com hit While You Were Sleeping. It was her first step towards dethroning Ryan, a subtle and appealing introduction that didn’t necessarily make waves, but caused enough ripples to put the Queen on notice. Ryan eventually countered with You’ve Got Mail three years later, with Bullock only able to offer box-office disappointments in the meantime, shrugging through sub-par outings until 2000’s Miss Congeniality. While not a strict rom-com, the film was a monster hit for Bullock and set the standard for the all too relatable girl next door role she made her own from then on, culminating in 2002’s Two Weeks Notice, the final tipping point in the Ryan/Bullock battle for rom-com supremacy.
Bullock has been at the top from then on. There have been pretenders to the throne in the years since, with both Jennifer Aniston and Katherine Heigl putting their name to seemingly every romantic comedy production that goes near them, but Aniston has struggled to find consistent box office success and Heigl became too overwhelmingly unlikeable to ever be worthy of being mentioned in the same conversation as Bullock. It’s been slim pickings for the Queen in the last few years, with The Proposal the only entry in the genre amongst her more recent Oscar bothering outings in The Blind Side and Gravity, but it was enough to keep her at the top. Like Ryan before her, Bullock’s name is still so regularly associated with the films of their ilk that it’s an oddity seeing her in anything else no matter how many other movies she finds success in. The combination of actress and genre is one of the few box office guarantees in Hollywood.
On the men’s side of the equation there has only been one choice since 1994’s Four Weddings And A Funeral – the undisputed King of romantic comedies Hugh Grant. Ryan Reynolds tried valiantly for a brief period but quickly realized that he was at his best in superhero fare, while Matthew McConaughey’s later career renaissance came in spite of his dreadful run of formulaic romantic comedies, not because of it. Grant meanwhile has never wandered far from the territory that made him, creating a resume dripping with similarly heartwarming movies interspersed with the odd outlier. The quality hasn’t always been great, but his willingness for the most part to avoid stretching his abilities in any way at all has resulted in the single most successful rom-com run in history. It’s been a Usain Bolt-like domination for the 56 year old.
Two Weeks Notice is the moment these two heavyweights joined forces, a veritable Avengers moment for the genre. It’s Captain America teaming with Iron Man, Batman joining forces with Superman, a two person dream team to rival the best of them. It’s their Watch The Throne, their 1992 Olympics, their De Niro/Pacino moment in Heat. Bullock plays environmental lawyer Lucy as a riff on her Miss Congeniality character, an uptight, opinionated and slightly nerdy ugly duckling positioned from the outset to blossom later in the film to the bizarre surprise of Grant’s billionaire George. The King’s performance is slightly less bumbling than his more recognized roles, but no less effective. The two have brilliant comic timing, and are impossibly likeable in even the worst situations. Bullock says her lines in a non-stop barrage of conversation and arguments, the fast talking and impassioned opposite of Grant’s casual charm and nonchalance. The two are great together, but in the more emotional scenes it’s obvious that Bullock is the better actor. Where she’s clearly comfortable carrying a film on her own, Grant needs a partner to bounce off. Luckily here he’s found his perfect counterpoint in Bullock.
The movie itself is horrible. A badly written script, paper thin characterization and entirely meaningless, barely noticeable direction from Marc Lawrence, the man who went on to direct Grant in his worst ever film Did You Hear About The Morgans? to unsurprising financial success. Two Weeks Notice is pieced together like a poorly assembled greatest hits compilation, the cinema equivalent of a record company’s rushed ‘Best Of’ to capitalize on an artist’s death or a band’s breakup. Lawrence runs through a checklist of standard romantic comedy moments and scenes, recreating them in such mind-numbingly bland fashion that the movie would die a horrible death were it not for his two stars. The film feels hacked together, overeager to get to its key moments and worst of all, is lumped with a grammatically incorrect title.
All this is irrelevant in the end though. It’s about Bullock and Grant, the King and Queen doing what they do best. They have both been better, and been in better films, but at this stage in their careers it’s difficult to fault either. For the foreseeable future their reign as rom-com royalty will remain untouched, if only by virtue of the fact they have become the two most beloved stars ever seen in the genre. With the distance from their last rom-com efforts increasing there has been a growing appreciation of the two. Bullock’s onscreen work continues to be recognized, from her Oscar win to her career best performance in the incredible Alfonso Cuarón classic Gravity, while off screen she’s becoming one of the most influential female producers alive. Grant meanwhile has seen his reputation grow into something entirely different from earlier in his career, known more now for his brilliantly blunt contempt for celebrity culture and acting as a whole. After decades spent in proudly safe and harmless movies he has in a strange way almost become cool. Long live the King and Queen.