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in defense of… DRIVE ME CRAZY

You said it, Melissa.  Though it lacks much pedigree, starring the former Clarissa Explains it All figurehead and the future leader of the pack on Entourage, Drive Me Crazy fell into teen comedy obscurity amongst the plethora of popular ones at the time (namely She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You).  In fact, you’ll likely find it relegated to $5 dollar bins across America.  So to sum it up, there’s no excuse by way of inaccessibility for seeing this underrated gem.

The premise is admittedly familiar – spunky popular girl takes on outsider next door, remakes him into a BMOC in a week or two, and, what do you know, they fall for each other.  But thanks to the effervescent charms of lead Melissa Joan Hart (yes, I went there – Sabrina haters be damned!) and a surprisingly springy script courtesy of Rob Thomas (no, not that Rob Thomas), we’re left with a bit of transcendence.  It’s a quiet picture, to be sure, and it certainly has its weak points (some of those supporting fortysomething “teenage” actors aren’t exactly grand thespians), but can you really top this interchange:

Nicole: “Turn that radio off, or I’m going to go Sean Young on your ass!”
Chase: “I think she means Sean Penn.”
Ray: “Good – Sean Young scares me.”

So I tell you, it’s time to forget what you think you know about Melissa Joan Hart.  Though she’s made some missteps in her career (um… Melissa & Joey?) this flick is a admirable teen comedy that surprises with its zingers.  There’s of course a predictable soundtrack loaded with late-90s pop-rock faves, but give it a chance!  Hey, at least it’s nice to reminisce about the days when pop was as simple as Britney Spears in a goofy waitress costume.
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In defense of… WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING

First thing’s first, a confession – I generally love most everything Sandra Bullock does. I know this is an unpopular sentiment in the blog world, particularly following last year’s Oscar ceremony, but I can’t help myself. I’m willing to concede that most of the work Bullock puts out is both (a) harmless trifle and (b) generally sunny and similar, but I will always jump to her defense thanks to my first encounter with her work – her Golden Globe-nominated performance in the 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. Now for starters, I’m going to pass judgment – anyone who’s seen this movie and Bullock’s performance and hasn’t been able to glean even the slightest bit of enjoyment or, dare I say it, respect for the actress out of this particular film is, well, jaded. Thanks to Ms. Bullock’s truly real “Lucy” – I really do miss real characters in romantic comedies, as I continuously harp on (everyone’s a successful magazine reporter or fashion executive these days, huh?), the movie really resonates. She’s a toll booth operator in Chicago with virtually no friends or family but her co-workers and a cat.

Now, I’m all for escapism, but in this day and age, it seems like the more we’re forced to sit through heroines with easily attainable six-figure careers whine about not being able to land a man, the more I lose faith in the sub-genre. But Lucy is sweet, lower-middle-class (if that), a loner, and, ultimately, a lovelorn softie. Now, Bullock doesn’t make this, in my eyes, impeccable rom-com happen all on her own. Thanks to her encounter with a man in a coma, we’re gifted with Lucy’s semi-adoptive family, filled with a host of character actors that universally excel. Glynis Johns is adorable as the forgetful grandmother, Peter Boyle is his typical stalwart (but secretly gentle-hearted) curmudgeon as Dad, Micole Mercurio (so underused since) is the bubbly, emotional Mom, and Jack Ward is the cigar-smoking, conscience-providing godfather. And say what you will about Bill Pullman, but he and Bullock certainly had chemistry.

So, I guess the point I’m trying to get across is, even if Bullock’s Blind Side Best Actress win and unfortunately tabloid-ridden marriage and series of cookie cutter comedies cause you to dismiss her on the spot, there’s something so inherently great about her persona. I think the best way to describe it is by putting a copy of While You Were Sleeping in a doubter’s hands. It’s such a warm, well-performed flick, and it best displays why Bullock achieved “girl next door” status. I fully expect to be berated in the comments by cries of foul when I jump to the defense of the acting skills of someone who seems to divide so many, but she’s a welcome addition to ’90s cinema as far as I’m concerned. And she’s the primary reason I count this movie among my all-time favorites.