Ah, the romantic comedy. Formulaic and predictable to the end. The only things that separates the good from the bad are the humor and the chemistry between the two leads. You’ll usually be able to map out the plot before the movie gets going. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (my favorite chick flick), you knew their lies would be revealed in front of everybody at that huge party, and you know in The Proposal that it’s going to fall through at the alter. Fortunately you also know they’ll come to love each other, and it will get all lovey dovey and end neatly and happily. The exception to this was The Break Up, which went for something they thought must be more ‘realistic,’ and of course pissed off everybody who saw it. Nobody wants to see a romantic comedy end sadly.
So don’t worry, The Proposal doesn’t repeat that transgression. In the span of three days, Margaret (Sandra Bullock) and Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) go from hating each other to falling helplessly in love.
The premise: Margaret is a successful, but cold-hearted, book editor from Canada who has a VISA application pending. She breaks the rules and leaves the country to appease a client, which means her application is denied. She has to leave the country for at least one year, and won’t be able to work at the job she’s devoted her life to (and would be replaced by the guy she just fired). Andrew is her ‘executive assistant,’ a young man who has dreams of working in literature and sees this as his best path. Margaret treats Andrew (and the rest of the office) like slaves, such that they all send out mass text messages warning to each other when she’s walking into the room. So when she gets the news of her deportation, she blackmails Andrew into marrying her so she can stay, with the promise of making him an editor. This is a highly questionable move, so the Office of Immigration informs them that they must pass a rather rigorous test, and end up having to fly out to Andrew’s small hometown in Alaska to spend time with his family, and inform them of the engagement.
Pretty straight up formula, right? You’re going to get a lot of ‘big city girl can’t handle small towns and nature but comes to love it’ and ‘warm hearted family melts ice of frigid bitch.’ You find out Margaret’s past holds a tragedy that likely affected her to become the person she did. In a somewhat funny gag, Margaret assumes Andrew is dirt poor only to learn that his family pretty much owns this small town and has built a small villa on the Alaskan coast. But daddy Paxton doesn’t approve of his son leaving to seek what he sees a foolish dream, and wants him to come home to ‘run the empire.’ They don’t see eye to eye, to say the least. It’s actually one of the more compelling subplots, but it never gets to where it should, and ends far too abruptly and neatly.
The cast is pretty solid. Sandra Bullock, halfway through her fifth decade, is getting a little cougar-ish to be playing this sort of romantic role, especially across from 12 years younger (looks 20) Ryan Reynolds. But all things considered, she pulls it off really well. There’s a scene when she’s all but naked, covering up using only her hands, and I’d be lying if I said she didn’t look pretty damn good. Her face is just barely starting to show the trying-to-stay-young look, with botox and make-up and all that jazz, but she might have a few more romances like this in her. She allows Margaret’s soft side to come on gradually, and it’s actually pretty sweet to see how she changes.
Betty White plays the ninety year old grandmother. She’s a treat to watch, though they missed a lot of opportunities with her. She’s on screen a lot, though I thought they could have given her some more comedic lines to work with. There’s an odd scene, where Margaret walks up on her in the woods practicing a Native American ritual. It’s as weird as it sounds, she’s in a full pheonix costume, dancing around a fire, and playing Indian drums on a boom box. It’s explained later that she has some Native American heritage in her, but I certainly could have done without it. The gag really wasn’t that funny, until Sandra Bullock started rapping “From the windows…” to the drums when she didn’t know the chant.
But the real star here is Ryan Reynolds. He really plays comedy well, and is quickly become the sultan of sarcasm. His delivery of lines is spot on, and he can make the unfunny funny with inflection and facial expression. He manages the more serious scenes, with his father and with Margaret, very well also. He seems to be on the rise, and I’d be glad to see him more. Most of the funniest lines come from him.
There are some jokes that fail, and only get light chuckles, but it’s funny enough to appease. It drags a little long, and the jokes get more scarce towards the end. But the real hurter in this romantic comedy is the romance. It was pretty underdeveloped and simple, even by romantic comedy standards. The two leads spend remarkably few scenes together, and when they are it’s usually for a joke, like running into each other naked or teasing each others idiosyncrasies. Margaret spends a lot of time with the family, and she seems to fall more in love with that than with Andrew. But we definitely see her fall more than he does, so it just seemed a little sudden when he decides to, you guessed it, chase her to the airport (don’t worry, it’s not totally cliche). But after three short days, they decide they’ve fallen for each other, impassioned speech and all.
I would like to see a movie like this, where two people have to lie in some situation, that doesn’t result in them ending up together. What? I thought you said you wanted romantic comedies to end well? I did, so don’t make it a romantic comedy, just make it a comedy. I think there’s a lot of humorous aspect to the idea of the two liars never falling for each other that gets lost when they do. They don’t have to hate each other throughout, maybe they grow to become friends. If you have to have romance, let the ‘Andrew’ of the story fall back in love with his old ex-flame (played here by Malin Akerman), and have him explain to her why he had to lie at the end. But keep the couple in the facade as the liars that they are, and work the hijinks from that angle. I don’t know, could be fun.
Rating: If you’re a guy on a date: 7/10, if you’re a girl: 7.8/10, if you’re a guy alone or with other guys: 6.5/10 (but you’ll pretend you didn’t like it).