Score one for escapist romance: Bullock bests the competition

A funny thing happened on the way to the movies this weekend.

Theatergoers bypassed colorful "Up," "The Hangover," and "Year One" in favor of "The Proposal," the Disney romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock that should have been the kind of film that makes a respectable third-place showing in its opening weekend. Instead, it ended the two-week streak of Hangover's Vegas victims and became the weekend's winner to the tune of $34 million.

Variety, in explanation for the film's unlikely victory, shrugged that "Proposal" "seemed to satisfy demand for a pent-up romantic comedy." America has been experiencing a bit of a rom-com drought this spring -- that's true. But just six weeks ago, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" -- the latest film to try to equate Matthew McConaughey's slurred drawl and oiled curls with desirability -- brought in a tepid $15 million in its debut weekend. So clearly, chick flick fans haven't been salivating for just any boy-meets-girl flavorpill.
In fact, the triumph of "Proposal" is a clear signal that the chick in the flick may actually have something to do with whether or not it makes money.

It's a long-held (and long-debated) Hollywood belief that women can't open a movie. And whenever women do open a movie -- see this year's "Hannah Montana: The Movie," which grossed $78 million, or last year's "Sex and the City", which grossed $153 million -- studio execs call those films the exception to the rule. Which is easy to do when the films that do well are movie events like that -- "Hannah" starred a pop icon that girls love and pattern their lives after, and "Sex" starred a quartet that women love and pattern their lives after.

"Proposal," on the other hand, is so run-of-the-mill -- jaded woman meets sensitive man, unlikely love blossoms, wacky hijinks ensue, a sassy grandma makes a turn -- that it may force the industry to acknowledge that Bullock, a stunning 45-year-old comedic powerhouse, can bring in more box-office bucks than McConaughey and his cohorts. This, despite the fact that she forswore such movies years ago as tired and sexist.

And if they insist that this is just another fluke? Well, time will tell -- literally, and soon. Over the next few months, women are tasked with opening several wide-release movies. There's "My Sister's Keeper," with Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin, this Friday; "The Ugly Truth," with Katherine Heigl, on July 24; and "Julie and Julia," with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, on August 7. If those A-list talents match Bullock's blockbuster feat, this may turn out to be the summer that studio execs finally adjust their attitudes towards leading ladies.
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