From its opening minutes, Two Weeks Notice promises to be the story of how two mismatched, lovable losers get together and fall in love.
Our first lovable loser is Lucy Kelson (Sandra Bullock), the New York Liberal of New York Liberals. The child of two aggressively progressive parents (Dana Ivey and Robert Klein), who were active in politics as far back as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, Lucy was raised to follow in their footsteps and has been a protester ever since the time she was a little girl growing up in the opening credits.
When we first meet her, she is comically hanging from a wrecking ball, trying to stop it from knocking down an allegedly important landmark building. In fact, she’s always trying to stop such buildings from being knocked down. It’s her mission in life. The trouble is, she never seems to succeed.
Along the way, she picked up a law degree from Harvard and makes ends meet by living with her parents, using Chinese delivery in place of going grocery shopping, and doing legal aid work.
So what happens when an UberLiberal starts having romantic thoughts about an UberConservative, handsome, young Republican multimillionaire businessman who is everything she despises?
Probably something close to this movie.
Lovable loser number two is George Wade (Hugh Grant). In reality, he probably isn’t a Republican, but the next best thing — a Tory. He is an upper class British twit with too much money, reminiscent of Hugh Laurie’s rendition of P. G. Wodehouse’s Wooster, of Jeeves and Wooster fame. Wade is so out of it that when accepting a hospital’s Man of the Year Award, he enthuses to the press that he loves supporting pediatrics because feet are so important. Later, he compliments a housemaid from the Philippines by telling her that she looks like her nation’s former dictatrix, Imelda Marcos.
Wade makes his living by serving as the public face of his company — Wade Industries — which actually is controlled by his much less photogenic brother, Howard (David Haig). Wade also is a womanizer who has cheated on his (numerous) former wives.
And he happens to be in need of a competent (rather than simply a beautiful and womanizable) lawyer to direct his company’s legal affairs.
Guess what happens next!
Kelson comes to Wade because she wants his help to… (are you ready?)… stop a landmark building from being knocked down.
Wade quickly realizes that she has the potential to be the supercompetent Jeeves to his own incompetent Wooster and gives her a job offer on the spot, tempting her with the thought of using the millions of dollars his company allocates for charity and pro bono legal work to aid the worthy causes with which she is obsessed.
She says no. She agonizes. She promises her parents that she’ll be the same liberal that she always has. And she gives in.
As expected, Kelson starts to take care of the puppy-dog Wade in all kinds of ways not related to legal services, such as helping him pick out an appropriate suit to wear to a beauty competition he’s judging.
We start to find out that, though she is a total loser in one aspect of her life, she is indeed supercompetent in many respects. We also discover: So is Wade. While he may be clueless when it comes to some things, he’s ultrasharp in others. Relaxed and in touch with his own emotions, he enjoys casually psychoanalyzing the uptight Kelson, who is only in touch with one of her emotions: righteous indignation.
Eventually, Kelson starts to get tired of being psychoanalyzed and being used as an advisor for each of Wade’s tiny, personal emergencies, and she turns in her… (are you ready?)… two weeks notice.
At this point (about a third of the way into the film), the movie starts to get quite interesting. There are more plot twists than you would expect in a romantic comedy, and there’s a substantial amount of comedy here, too. There’s a good deal to laugh at, and the humor often is not only funny, but clever as well. I, for one, was pleasantly surprised (though as always with a contemporary comedy, one must expect some material for which one has to hold one’s nose).
It’s in the final act of the film that it really starts to fall apart.
Despite the film’s promise to give us a politically mismatched love story, Two Weeks Notice really does have an agenda. Hollywood doesn’t have the wherewithal to give us a romance between two equally-committed, equally-rational characters from different ends of the political spectrum.
One begins to realize that Wade isn’t the committed conservative he’s built up to be. He seems to have no strongly held views about anything, whereas Kelson is still the shrill radical she always was. It’s taken for granted that Big Business is a Bad Thing, and Kelson openly tells Wade that he uses his money "for Evil," though the film provides us no clue what kind of evil it is. Wade, for his part, passively acknowledges this and shows no interest in redeeming himself.
Just as on the Norman Lear TV series "All in the Family" (in which ultraconservative Archie Bunker always came across as less rational than ultraliberal Mike "Meathead" Stivic), the producers can’t bring themselves to do equal justice to both sides of the political debate, and it’s clear where their sympathies lie.
Of course, it’s a tall order to successfully pull off an interpolitical romance, but if that’s the goal you set for yourself, you have to be judged in terms of whether you succeed or fail.
This one fails, and not just politically.
By the beginning of the third act, our two would-be love birds have grown on each other — to the point that when they go to a restaurant they reflexively start taking from each other’s plates the food that the other one won’t want to eat. But just when you think that the two characters are about to finally connect romantically, the film takes a turn for the dark.
With any contemporary romantic comedy, one must remember that the characters live in a different moral universe. Except for unusual films like A Walk to Remember, none of the protagonists in this kind of movie have even the faintest idea of what marriage and sex are all about. Knowing that ahead of time, you just have to grit your teeth and try to look past it. Hopefully, that’s sufficient.
But not this time.
Though nobody (explicitly or implicitly) has sex during the course of the film, its "I don’t know what sex is for" morality really comes home to roost in the final act. It’s made quite clear that Wade seems not to have been redeemed from his womanizing ways. Indeed, the two leads seem to lose all attraction to each other just as they were getting together. The chemistry that was building between them in the second act is completely neutralized.
This is sustained, out of a misguided attempt on the filmmakers’ part to build drama, virtually until the end of the film. The audience actually starts to wonder: "Are these characters going to get together after all? Is this really a romantic comedy, or is it something else?" Not only has all the romance been sucked out of the film, so has all the comedy, and the viewer simply has to endure the final act.
As a result, the film’s eventual happy ending seems fake — tacked on — just like the semi-humorous epilogue it provides just when the audience thought the closing credits were going to roll.
Ultimately, Two Weeks Notice is like its characters — successful in some respects and a dismal failure in others.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.