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Sandra Bullock is the cure for the common cold

Chicken soup is not enough; you also need ‘Practical Magic,’ a warm sofa and a dark room. By Dave White
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Two things you can almost always count on:

1. Everything you touch is crawling with germs and viruses.

Not to freak you out or anything, but it’s a fact. And, because of that fact, you’re going to catch a cold or the flu eventually. I do, usually about once a year. I think that’s about normal. And because I like being normal, the cold and/or flu usually hits me during the months between October and March, when it’s coldest and when, frankly, it’s more fun to be sick.

2. Cable TV is crawling with Sandra Bullock.

This is also a fact. It’s much less of a freakout than the germs and viruses, but it’s just as true. This week alone, on four different channels, you could watch “Hope Floats,” “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” “28 Days” and “The Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” The last three are on twice.

In my life, these two phenomena are inextricably entwined. Now, “Premonition” notwithstanding (a film I saw in a private screening room two weeks ago because my job is to review movies — fancy, I know), I don’t often watch Sandra Bullock’s work in theaters, seated upright or wearing pants. I’m usually on the couch, in pajamas, covered in a blanket, eating soup. Because I like her best when I’m sick.

In fact, I’ve seen all of her post-“Speed” films — the only ones I care about, really — while ill. And I feel like they’re a vital part of toxin elimination. They flush you. Their plots are generally simple, human motivations are clear, the comedies are funny enough, the dramas are more or less moving, cute men (and Harry Connick, Jr.) tend to want her, and the endings are unambiguous and satisfying. They’re very similar to a mild cold virus themselves: temporary, innocuous, easily battled and soothed with NyQuil, hot tea and my friend Kimberly’s onion-and-garlic soup. So in a very real way, Sandra Bullock is my Hollywood nurse.

Forget aspirin, try ‘While You Were Sleeping’Some of her films, however, make you feel better than others. “Speed,” for example, is not a good sick-day movie. It demands too much. Drains you. All that tension. And when did testosterone ever make anyone feel warm and safe? The answer is never. That’s estrogen’s job. But “Speed 2: Cruise Control”? It’s like watching little kids playing “guns and boats” and, therefore, it’s almost as funny as one of the lesser Marx Bros movies.

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I stumbled on to the Sandra Bullock wellness program in 1997 with a weekend flu that included horizontal viewings of “While You Were Sleeping” and “The Net.” It was a perfect groggy combo: the sweet-natured romantic comedy and the ooga-booga “I’m in your Internet, stealing your life” thriller. And this was back before crystal meth labs ruined the coma-inducing formula of my favorite coughing-sneezing-stuffy-head-relief-so-you-can-rest medicine. I was just over-the-counter high enough — feeling pretty groovy, falling in and out of consciousness — while I watched. I learned from that experience that when you get sick the next year with an identical cold — which I did in the winter of 1998 — you can watch the exact same movies all over again and they still feel fresh.

My favorite therapeutic Sandra B. cable experiences are the extra-woman-y movies, for a couple of reasons. I don’t know how actual women feel about them, but for male viewers they contain more revelations about desire, disappointment, beauty, grief, food and interior design than a lifetime subscription to Redbook. I learn from them. Once, while watching “Hope Floats” (strep throat, 2002), I realized that my surroundings were perfectly coordinated with the movie. I was wearing barn-red plaid flannel pajamas, lying on sofa upholstered in a complementary Pottery Barn-ish dark olive/khaki, and my very soft cashmere throw was a dark charcoal gray. I looked amazing. 

To a lesser degree, I get the same feeling of well-being from “Practical Magic,” the first “Miss Congeniality” and “Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”  They don’t reach the antibiotic heights of “Hope Floats,” but they serve their purpose. When I’m unwell, I’m more likely to feel stupidly hopeless about my life, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. I’ve always secretly believed that occasional sickness is punishment for being bad in the first place, so I’m really too open to hopeful suggestion in those weakened moments, regardless of how truly delusional and indulgent it is. I’m no Spartan.

That’s also why I’m even a fan of “Two Weeks Notice,” the movie immortalized in the book “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” for its flagrant nose-thumbing at title punctuation. It’s the flattest and least sincere of the romantic comedies, which is kind of confusing on the surface because it’s got Hugh Grant at what may be his Hugh Grant-iest. But there you go. Still, though, it’ll do if that’s all that’s on. Cuteness trumps a lot of movie-making sins.

Darker films go down just as easilyI’ve also taken a strange liking to the recent dour phase Bullock’s offerings have entered. Because I’ve already seen the thoroughly surprising and morbidly entertaining “Premonition” (no spoilers here, of course), I can tell you that it’s the perfect supernatural companion to last year’s yearning mope-fest “The Lake House,” and, in a way, to Bullock’s excellently brittle-bitchy performance in the ridiculously overwrought “Crash.”

All the lightly sarcastic and somewhat dark brunette energy she brings to the sugary comedies, the reason she’s always been more accessible than someone like Meg Ryan, or even Julia Roberts — her ability to seem like she might start crying at any moment — gets to flower and fester unchecked in the recent films. They’re the opposite of cute, but they’re still kind of great for wallowing. The comfort they deliver is based in a sort of crummy empathy.

It just so happens that I’ve been hovering near the edge of being coughy and sneezy lately. It could just be an allergy-based touch of sinus grossness brought on by the sudden spring weather my part of the country has been experiencing. Or I might just need to shut the curtains and lie in the dark for no good reason. Whatever it is, it’s enough to make me feel like I’m due for some couch time, some crummy empathy, and a dose of “Murder By Numbers.”

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile in Guyville.” Find him at www.imdavewhite.com.