Working Weak


Along with Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (1940), Billy Wilder’s 1960 Oscar-sweeper The Apartment elevates the workplace romance into a sublime erotics of officious addresses (the omnipresent Mister and Miss) and economic conundrum. In The Apartment, which gets a new-print premiere at Film Forum, actuary C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) sleeps his way up the Consolidated Life ladder by proxy, as philandering execs use his 67th Street digs for scheduled romps. Meanwhile, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the elevator operator he chivalrously fancies, can’t get personnel czar Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) out of her mind. The triangulation keeps its edges with on-your-toes dialogue and a fine-tuned critique of corporate culture. Lemmon navigates the line between simpering and sympathetic with nervous WASP-ish energy, George Bush Sr. visited by the facial contortions of Jim Carrey. Most indelibly, MacLaine gives us a gamine with the whole gamut of emotions, a cursed capacity to love, and a limit to her own self-pity.

As in Shop, Christmastime and suicide mingle, and the name “Kubelik” has the old-world ring of Kralik, Matuschek, et al.; Baxter’s Jewish neighbors put him on the road from schnook to mensch. Wilder had a sign in his office that read, “How Would Lubitsch Do It?” and here that director’s elusive touch hovers over the proceedings, lending a lightness to even the most mercenary transactions.

Never mind the Bullock—where’s the apostrophe? Two Weeks Notice is so busy rehashing rom-com clichés that it shirks the genitive, prelude to other flaws. The film’s essentially over by the meet-cute: Lefty lawyer Lucy (Sandra Bullock), off to chew out building tycoon George (Hugh Grant), instead gets hired as chief counsel by the laddish GQ cover boy. (The do-gooder/moneybags dynamic recalls You’ve Got Mail, Lubitsch’s Shop remade as the world’s longest B&N ad.) Tired of his 24-7 neediness, Lucy drops the titular hello-I-must-be-going early on, making the ensuing plot feel that much more prolonged. Hyper-elfin Bullock could pass for Galadriel, and Grant—spot-on as About a Boy‘s slacker—is little more than a Britishism machine (“Cheers,” “Oi!,” “Right!”). Aretha’s “Respect” gets a de rigueur airing, as gratuitous physical high jinks bear desperation’s thumbprints. (Spoiler alert: Bullock beaned by tennis ball.) Those responsible doubtless hope audiences will be too weak to notice or, in the holiday spirit, simply shut up and deal.

Archive Highlights