Sandra Bullock is one of those actress who seemed to come out of nowhere thanks to pure luck as she was cast in a movie that was supposed to be its lead star big comeback. When Demolition Man hit theaters, Sylvester Stallone was riding high on the success of Cliffhanger after many years of flops both in action and comedy. Bullock had been cast to replace Lori Petty after the scenes with her and Sly weren’t jelling.
The first scene Bullock had to film with Sly was the virtual realty sex scene. Cast as Lt. Lenina Huxley in a sci-fi action movie with a satirical overtone, she could’ve been easily forgotten. She had appeared in two other movies in 1993, The Vanishing and The Thing Called Love. Neither of which were successful. She had been acting since the mid-1980s. She was almost 30. In Hollywood at the time, she was already a relic. She was on her way to being cast in “mother roles” in Disney/family movies. But there was something about her role as Huxley that Petty nor any other actress could bring. She understood that role and knew that Huxley was a wannabe action star who knew her limits.
Her next role was as Annie Porter, a daily commuter on a transit bus in the Los Angeles area, in Speed. She doesn’t appear until about a fourth into the movie and we know nothing about her. And I mean, nothing. Her driver’s license has been suspended for speeding. We don’t know her job, her relationship status and anything else. But there was something about her role that made her relatable. When the pesky tourist played by Alan Ruck tries to pick up her by going on about how he’s a tourist, she immediately takes her chewing gum out and uses it as a ruse that she sat in gum so she can switch seats.
When Keanu Reeves’ Jack Traven gets on the bus, she is immediately hostile to him. And why not? She doesn’t know anything that’s going on with the bomb on the bus. She tells him how he’s scaring the other passengers and causing a disturbance. But her role as Annie, who has to take over driving the bus when Sam the Bus Driver gets shot made her more than the obligatory girl role. It’s been reported Ellen Degeneres was being considered but I don’t think it would’ve work.
Speed was also released prior to Blown Away, which was supposed to be the huge summer blockbuster about a mad bomber. But Speed became a surprise hit with critics and audiences. So naturally, an actress appearing in two back-to-back action blockbusters is ready for her own role.
But a Christmas-themed movie released in April? Surely, they can’t be serious.
Bullock plays Lucy Moderatz, a lowly toll fare operator for Chicago’s elevated train system. Her parents are both deceased and since she was an only child, she doesn’t have any immediately relatives. Her only friends seem to be her fellow neighbors in her apartment building and co-workers, including her supervisor, Jerry Wallace (Jason Bernard), who’s older and seems to be her fatherly figure. But he coerces her into working on Christmas Day after she worked also on Thanksgiving, because well, she doesn’t have an immediate family.
In many ways, you can see the desperation of Lucy, whose lived most of her adult life in the big city only to find herself alone ordering Chinese takeout many nights. The only men she seems to attract are schlubs like Joe Jr. (Michael Rispoli), an overly conscious ladies man who doesn’t see how unattractive he really is.
She has gotten attracted to a young businessman, Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallager) who passes through her turnstile almost every day. He just happens to pass through on Christmas day. He gives her a half-smile and an empathetic “Merry Christmas” before he is accosted by muggers who knock him off the platform on to the tracks. Lucy rushes to his aide and pulls him off.
At the hospital, a misunderstanding among the police and hospital workers leads them to believe Lucy is Peter’s fiance. When his family arrive loudly wanting to know what happen, they are surprised to find out that not only is Peter engaged but his fiance saved his life. His father, Ox, (Peter Boyle) tells officials that Lucy is “family” and they allow her to sit with them as they wait to hear more. Unfortunately, Peter is a coma which helps Lucy continue the ruse but she feels bad.
Later when she visits Peter alone, Saul Tuttle (Jack Warden), a family friend, overhears Lucy talking to Peter and revealing they are not engaged. The Callaghans invite Lucy to their Christmas dinner they hold on the day after. And Lucy is warming up to them as they treat her with open arms and even have a gift for her. Lucy falls asleep on the couch but misses the arrival of Jack (Bill Pullman), Peter’s younger brother, who is initially skeptical of Lucy, even discussing it with Ox on how Peter would’ve told them he was engaged.
Jack continues this thinking when he arrives at Peter’s apartment to see Lucy there feeding the cat, even though he thought Peter didn’t have a cat, and at the hospital, leading Lucy to reveal something only she would know. This requires Peter’s mother, Midge (Micole Mercurio) to look where the sun doesn’t shine to confirm it. Convinced Lucy is Peter’s fiance, he gets more friendly with her as they drop off some furniture and they spend more time together, eventually realizing they really like each other.
It’s your standard romcom story, but the performances of Bullock and Pullman keep this from becoming a Hallmark/Lifetime romcom. Like I said, Bullock was 30 when making this movie. And she isn’t trying to be some young 20-something. Lucy has some miles on her. And Pullman carries that blue-collar Midwest likability to the role. Even though he had been appearing in more serious roles, he had started out in comedies. Maybe it’s because Bullock and Pullman weren’t bigger names at the time. They’re able to appeal to more audiences.
A little real-life drama was also helpful. Even though Pullman has been married since 1987, Bullock found herself on Page Six as her boyfriend of three years, Tate Donovan, had just dumped her and started dating Jennifer Aniston. Hollywood is just like high school. I’m sure a lot of audiences could sympathize with Bullock as Aniston had gone from being that girl from Leprechaun to America’s Top Cover Girl.
Peter does awaken from his coma and we learn he’s not the Prince Charming Lucy thought as he was involved with a high society woman, Ashley (Ally Walker) and that Jack’s more down to Earth and more on level with what she’s seeking. Naturally, they get together in the end after everything comes out and it seems as if she’s lost Jack.
It does seem to be somewhat conventional but sometimes that’s needed. What keeps the movie going is the comedy of errors as Lucy tries to keep the farce going even when Peter awakes and doesn’t know who she is, her family thinks he has amnesia. Pullman works just as good during a scene at a New Year’s Eve party, he is mistaken for Lucy’s fiance. He later reveals a falsehood in front of her co-workers and friends that she’s pregnant because his sister, Mary (Monica Keena) heard it from one of her friends who misheard something. And Saul tells Lucy he knows her secret but is afraid to tell the Callaghans because of their history.
This is a movie that has the right charm to it. It doesn’t rely too much on cheap laughs even though the Joe Jr. character wouldn’t fly as well today as he did in 1995. He’s still too much of a creep. But I think the overall appeal is how you never know when you’re going to find that special someone in your life. Lucy and Jack don’t have the typical disdain for each other that other romcoms have. There is some truth to how Jack is looking out for his family but how quickly he is to make amends when he starts to believe her.
There’s also the life imitating art appeal as Bullock just like Lucy finally got what she had been seeking. The movie’s popularity has led to a Korean remake in 2017 and even The Big Sick, inspired by a true story, seemed to eerily follow the same plot. Even as the years have passed through all the ups and downs of her career and personal life (Was anyone siding with Jesse James through that whole mess?), Bullock remains an A-lister.