*** (out of 5)
June 19, 2009
Sandra Bullock as MARGARET TATE
Ryan Reynolds as ANDREW PAXTON
Mary Steenburgen as GRACE PAXTON
Craig T. Nelson as JOE PAXTON
Betty White as GRANDMA ANNIE
Denis O’Hare as MR. GILBERTSON
Malin Akerman as GERTRUDE
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
BY KEVIN CARR
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So far this summer, the films that have made the biggest splash have been science fiction epics, family films and a bunch of drunk guys in Vegas. It’s about time for a break-out romantic comedy.
“The Proposal” seems primed for this role, even though it’s far from the best or most creative rom com to come down the pike. It does, however, have the distinction of fitting squarely into the romantic comedy formula.
The story follows high-powered book editor Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) who is faced with deportation to her native Canada because she violated her immigration status. In a desperate attempt to keep her home in New York (and consequently her career in publishing), Margaret bribes her assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her. However, immigration official start an investigation on what they believe is a sham marriage, forcing Margaret to travel to Alaska to meet Andrew’s family. In the process, they learn about each other and have a shot at falling in love.
There’s nothing inherently problematic about “The Proposal,” unless you’re one of those filmgoers who hates any romantic comedy and detests the formula system. However, the film does lack a certain degree of passion. I’d recommend it, but I wouldn’t highly recommend it, if you get my drift.
The reason the film fits so well into the rom com formula is that it was written (covertly, as it turns out) by Pete Chiarelli, a former creative executive at MGM who is responsible for such films as “The Pink Panther” and “The Amityville Horror.” At the onset, Chiarelli duped Touchstone pictures into thinking it bought a script from an unknown female writer. To be honest, the author’s involvement makes sense. In retrospect, “The Proposal” feels like it was written by a studio executive.
The elements are all in place: two hot stars, a built-in conflict, a picturesque location, a quirky and doting family, the pretty ex-girlfriend, a cute love story and a modern reworking of a classic cliche plot twist. Things all fit together, but the film does lack the creative spark behind classic rom coms like “Pretty Woman” and “When Harry Met Sally.”
A lot of the elements of this film have been seen before, particularly in other Sandra Bullock movies like “While You Were Sleeping” and “Two Weeks Notice.” But I suppose if it works for her, she might as well stick with the old standards.
Within its formulaic and tired framework, everything fits together. Both Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds own their roles, and they have some decent chemistry together. Bullock, in particular, takes a bit of a risk in an almost nude scene (with all her naughty bits conveniently covered, Vanity Fair Demi Moore style). She looks great, proving that she wasn’t just another pretty face back in her mid-20s.
As strange as it may sound, the only time “The Proposal” falls apart is when it deviates from the formula. There are two or three scenes that just come out of left field and, while funny if watched in a vacuum, throw a monkey wrench into the character set-up and story arc. It’s as if the ever-present studio execs who had their hands on this film (including the writer, who also produced the film) worried that the story would be too formulaic and tried to shake things up in bizarre and inappropriate ways.
In short, “The Proposal” will work as a romantic comedy to which guys can take their wives and girlfriends, paying it forward for a date night at “Transformers 2” in a couple weeks. Rom com audiences should love this movie, but it’s really nothing special.