The Sandra Bullock Files is a series that looks at the films of Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock, all the way from her debut from 1987, to her two major 2018 releases, Ocean’s Eight and Bird Box.
Well here it is, Sandra’s first starring role in a movie that marked both a big break as well as a potential career ender all at the same time. Before Love Potion №9, Sandra’s performances in movies were relegated to insignificant supporting roles that typically didn’t amount to much. Furthermore, the movies themselves were tiny productions that never reached a wide audience.
Love Potion №9 was not only her first major film role, but also her first major studio movie. She’s the female lead here, and it’s a pleasure to watch her finally take a big bite into a juicy role. But the film’s abysmal failure at the box office almost resulted in Sandra’s career coming to an abrupt end.
The movie is pretty dumb and goofy — there’s no sign of an Oscar yet in Sandra’s future here. But this movie marks the first performance of her career where she gets to finally create a character, one with goals and flaws and charm. She has a full arc over the course of the movie and gets the chance to show off her comedic skills, as well as her early, underdeveloped dramatic ones.
When we’re first introduced to her, she looks comically ridiculous. She’s got thick glasses, buck teeth, a dopey wardrobe, and stringy hair falling into places it shouldn’t. Sandra plays Diane, a shy biochemist who’s never had any luck with men, until one day her good friend Paul (the only guy she’s ever had a date with), played by Tate Donovan, gives her a potion he received from a gypsy (Anne Bancroft). She tries the elixir scientifically at first, to see if she can get out of a traffic ticket. But before she realizes the true power of the potion, she finds herself on the other side of the magic, when a total slime-ball uses it to get her to marry him. The second half of the film is frustrating, to say the least, as Diane remains under the man’s spell, and the audience knows full well that Paul is the one she should be with.
The movie opened in wide release in November 1992 and was poised to become a potential hit comedy. Instead, it completely tanked, earning only three quarters of a million dollars at the domestic box office. The career of writer and first-time director Dale Launer never recovered and Donovan, who went on to date Sandra for much of the early ’90s, never made it to the A-list (although he has gone on to a busy career directing television).
After this movie tanked, Sandra found herself back in supporting roles for the next year, appearing in five films in 1993. When her name was tossed around as an idea for the role of Annie in Speed, Fox executives wouldn’t have it — to them, the box office failure of Love Potion №9 was in part due to Sandra’s non-existent star power. The casting Gods had their way, however, and she nabbed the role that would finally catapult her to superstardom.
Of course, upon the release of Love Potion №9, summer 1994 was still months away. Sandra had a few more films to make, some good, some bad, and one so disastrous it too could have put a stop to her career.
But more on that later.
Best Scene: Her first scene where she, looking her worst, explains to a group of women the important biological work she does with chimpanzees.
Best Line: “I’m a comparative psycho biologist!”
Inspired by the 1959 song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
This film grossed $754,935 at the box office.
Despite her prominence on the DVD cover, Sandra wasn’t even featured on the original poster.