A film review by Craig J. Koban
2009, PG-13, 107 mins.
2009, PG-13, 107 mins.
Margaret: Sandra Bullock / Andrew: Ryan Reynolds / Mrs.
Paxton: Mary Steenburgen / Mr. Paxton: Craig T. Nelson /
Grandma Annie: Betty White / Mr. Gilbertson: Denis O'Hare /
Ramone: Oscar Nunez
It’s a funny thing, but rom-coms have to do very little to win me over.
Yet, why are so many incapable of pleasing me?.
My expectations of them are minimal: I simply want them to have
a couple of lead actors that give amiable performances, have decent
chemistry and be people that populate a story that I can credibly buy
into (in other words, I want to like the characters enough to
yearn them on to happiness together, at least in a story that maintains
some humble veracity). Unfortunately,
too many recent examples of the genre have failed in this instance, and
THE PROPOSAL – despite some of its virtues – is yet another failure.
There are two large and
unyielding problems with this film, one of which I will speak of
specifically when I discuss its plot.
The first concerns the actual developed romance in the film between its two
key characters, played by Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock.
In pure screwball farce fashion, these two characters absolutely
loathe each other to their cores (with perhaps more resentment being
initiated by Reynolds' character). Okay.
Fine. They hate each
other at first, but most romantic comedies begin in much the same manner
and they develop the slowly growing chemistry between the pair, so much so
that by the end of the film you believe that they have become an
inseparable item. THE
PROPOSAL has one of those obligatory moments where the man discovers
subtle emotional secrets and subverted pains that the woman has bravely
revealed, making him rethink her in a whole new light. Up until this point
he basically perceives this woman an egomaniacal, vindictive, and
ruthlessly selfish bitch. But,
when he hears her speak candidly for a mere few minutes…he...falls in love with her.
Not buying it.
For THE PROPOSAL to think that
one small and fairly insignificant exchange between a man and a woman is
enough to make the man fall instantly in love with her strains
believability. The film has
already established that they have had a previous three year relationship
during which the woman has belittled and verbally abused the man (she’s his
boss), but when they have a moment of sincerity between one another, the
man is so moved that he can’t think of anything else but spending the
rest of his life with her. On
this level, THE PROPOSAL’s “romance” is dead on arrival: it
established the characters well enough, but it never, ever makes us
believe that these total polar opposites would become an inseparable,
mutually adoring couple because of one honest and frank exchange.
Rom-coms – at least the best ones – work considerably harder at
fostering and nurturing the love between the leads.
The other major problem with the film is that it treacherously suffers from the “Idiot Plot Syndrome” on the basis of its premise. so much so that it becomes next-to-impossible to accept it. The syndrome refers to “a plot in a movie containing problems that would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not complete idiots.”
plot of THE PROPOSAL is a real doosey of pure, cornball make-believe.
In the film we meet a verbally caustic, malevolent, and fiercely
mean-spirited New York book editor, Margaret (played respectably by Bullock) who has a secretary…make that
executive assistant…name Andrew (Reynolds). They both
exist in a state of perpetual mutual disdain.
Margaret has a major dilemma, eh:
she’s a Canadian living illegally in the U.S. and her bosses have
abruptly dropped a bombshell on her early in the film that – as a result
of her ignoring the law and forgetting to fill out some necessary
paperwork – she is to be deported and cannot work nor return to the
States for at least a year. During
this meeting the hapless and somewhat unlucky Andrew comes in which
culminates in an
idea quickly forming in the sniveling Margaret’s head: She grabs Andrew
and quickly informs her superiors that the two are to be wed, making
her status in the U.S. legal. Of
course, her higher ups are somewhat surprised, but perhaps not as
shocked as Andrew himself.
Andrew confronts Margaret in
private and rather sternly informs her that he will not, under any
circumstances, marry her. She
responds by blackmailing her young assistant by informing him that if he does not walk down
the isle with her then she will royally fire his ass.
Andrew begrudgingly agrees, seeing as he does not want to lose his
job, and the pair decides to go see an immigration officer to help
expedite their shotgun green card wedding.
Realizing that they are going to have to prove – beyond a shadow
of a doubt – that they are a real couple on the verge of nuptials, Margaret decides to return
back with Andrew to his childhood home of Sitka, Alaska (with
Massachusetts and Rhode Island actually subbing for it here, and rather
unrealistically) to meet his parents and family.
Routine predictability ensures when the fish-out-of water city girl
that is Margaret desperately tries to acclimatize to Alaska as well as
trying to make Andrew’s family believe that he will become her husband.
THE PROPOSAL lost me the instant Bullock’s character feebly informs her bosses that she is marrying Andrew, not to mention when she coerces him to take part in her twisted and warped plans. What makes no sense in this Idiot Plot is why Andrew - being harassed into conspiring to commit immigration fraud at the risk of fines and a prison term - would ever allow himself to be a willing participant. Moreover, since Margaret threatened his employment for non-participation in her marriage scheme, then why wouldn’t the smart and quick witted Andrew go straight back to her superiors and inform them that he was being blackmailed into faking a marriage to her in order to secure his job? I mean…Andrew detests this woman with a fiery passion, so why not rush right back to her bosses and file a complaint? She would be fired and would, as a result, be out of his hair for good. In the real world, Andrew would either have this woman canned or file a sexual harassment lawsuit against her, but since this is a rom-com on full Idiot Plot Syndromed autopilot, we are forced to believe that a free thinking and intelligent Andrew would just go along for the ride.
Yup. Sure. Uh huh.
its inane premise, THE PROPOSAL becomes so sluggishly predictable that it
produced more watch checking on my part than active involvement with what
was happening on screen. Gee,
I wonder if Margaret will become easily charmed with Andrew’s family?
Hmmm…I wonder if Margaret will start to appreciate and love the
sense of small town communal spirit in Sitka?
Hey, I wonder if Margaret will have a small run in with a former
flame of Andrew's that leads her to develop a serious guilty conscience?
And…wait a tick…I wonder if the initially icy cold fish of a
woman that is Margaret will thaw out from her weekend with Andrew and his
loving family to the point where she will wear down his defenses and allow
him to fall in love with her? And
after they do rather quickly fall in love, I wonder if there will be a misunderstanding
between them that
will force them apart and reconnect them for the pre-end-credit embrace
Okay, sarcasm aside, THE
PROPOSAL has a cookie-cutter story that is as flimsy and prosaic as they come.
Anyone with a reasonable head on his or her shoulders will know
with pinpoint precision where the film is heading at every waking moment.
That in itself is not altogether the kiss of death for rom-coms
(most are, in some form or another, fairly preordained), but THE PROPOSAL
is so mind-numbingly formulaic with its choices, which far too often
overrides some of the film’s virtues, like its fairly decent cast and
affable performances. And
again, as stated, the manner with which Andrew and Margaret’s mutual
worship of one another is established in such a haphazard and insipidly
simplistically fashion that it all but drains out the authenticity in the film.
If you can’t sell the idea that these two actually do love one
another (and they engage in a story that is so incomparably ridiculous and
idiotic)…then what’s the point?
It’s a shame, because the
leads here are appealing and have a nice sense of comedic timing playing
off of one another. Bullock,
now in her mid-40's, still maintains a difficult balancing act of being
agelessly assured playing goofy and spirited laughs alongside sentiment
that does not feel too forced or phony.
It’s also nice to see her play a woman that is such a
categorically vile tempered and spiteful creation
(at least early on). She
does have a nice on-screen rapport with Ryan Reynolds, who has certainly
matured from his earlier comedic performances that had a certain
disagreeable, self-congratulatory smugness about them (he is oftentimes
more funny underplaying laughs in particular moments, as is the case with his
reaction to Margaret telling her bosses that they are getting married).
His work in THE PROPOSAL is less showy and camera mugging than in
some of his past forgettable comedies.
Films like this and last year’s wonderfully inspired and creative
DEFINITELY, MAYBE prove that he can be leading man material.
The other performances are a
mixed bagged. Craig T. Nelson
and Mary Steenburgen play their conventional mother/father roles
as…well…conventionally as possible (the film also has a subplot
involving some long-standing animosity between father and son that never
really feels authentic; it's more of a tacked on plot point).
Malin Akerman – an astonishingly radiant screen presence, to be sure – plays
uselessly banal part as the girlfriend that Andrew wanted to marry years
ago, but got away (the film is kind of manipulative with the way it teases
viewers into thinking that she will figure larger into a love triangle
when she actually does not, which unavoidably leads one to question why
this character is even in the film in the first place). Lastly, we have former Golden Girl Betty White playing
Andrew’s not-quite 90-year-old grandmother, who displays that she has
not lost any of her adorable spunkiness or natural dry wit. However,
does partake in the film’s single weirdest and unfunny sequence where
she dresses up like a Native American shaman and performs a kooky
ceremony. Laughs were the intended reaction here, I think, but you
could hear a pin drop in the theatre all through the scene.
I think that Reynolds and Bullock have the right comic sensibilities and have a real zeal on
screen together, but their talents are required in a substantially better
rom-com than THE PROPOSAL. Perhaps
part of the problem is that its director, Anne Fletcher (a former dance
choreographer) also made the obnoxiously dreadful 27
DRESSES, which also subverted star Katherine Heigl’s assets as an
assured comedic leading lady.
Certainly, THE PROPOSAL has some of the basic requisite elements
for successful screen romantic farces (like two very attractive and
instantly agreeable lead actors), but the film undermines them by placing
them in a low-concept, paint-by-numbers, and irksomely idiotic plot that
made me scratch my head with too much contemptuous incredulity.
Its ultimate undoing is that the story never treads believable
water after the first ten minutes and it never sells the romance between
the characters. There is a stark difference between liking the leads and
believing that they would actually grow to care for one another.
THE PROPOSAL is a real odd amalgam of breezy and alluring stars
fused with a mindlessly dumb and ill conceived script, which
unavoidably results in the film being nothing more than flat, crude and
blasé time killer.