Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Surprisingly Ordinary Romantic Comedy: The Proposal Is Not So Magnificent.

The Good: Decent acting, Moments of fresh concept
The Bad: Light character development, Pacing, Surprisingly light on DVD bonus features.
The Basics: Even teasing the audience with Sandra Bullock naked (or as close as she gets), The Proposal is not as entertaining as one might hope.

Have you ever noticed when an actress or actor appears on the radar, you start to see them in everything? That's how it is with me with actress Malin Akerman. Akerman wowed me last year with Watchmen (click here for review) and shortly thereafter, I saw her in the abysmal Couples Retreat (click here for that review). Last night, as I finally made good on a promise to my wife to watch The Proposal with her, I was pleasantly surprised to see Malin Akerman. I mention that at the outset of my review of The Proposal because: 1. it was the movie's most pleasant surprise for me and 2. both in terms of character and acting Malin Akerman was vastly underused in the comedy. The Proposal, which came to me highly recommended turned out to be more surprisingly average than anything else and after hearing so much good stuff about the film, I found myself terribly unimpressed, even bored at times.

The Proposal is a romantic comedy and it fits into the pretty narrow genre of love/hate romantic comedies which are generally formulaic in their execution. While the initial premise illustrates some promise, the movie quickly gets into familiar territory and while some might be thrilled at the idea of seeing Sandra Bullock in a state of undress for a brief scene, it's not That Type Of Movie. Still, it's easy to see how an actress with Bullock's integrity and skill would be willing to bare some for the role. The nude scene, being more than salacious, works on a metaphorical level that makes the movie a slight bit average.

Margaret Tate is a high-powered editor for a big publishing house and she is unliked by her employees, despite her professional acumen. Margaret's assistant, Andrew Paxton, is a hard-working aspiring author whose manuscript Margaret never quite gets around to reading. After Tate fires Bob, an assistant editor who is gunning for Margaret's job, she has a run-in with her supervisors at the publishing company. It seems Tate is a Canadian whose visa is being denied and she will lose both her job and her temporary citizenship because she violated the terms of her immigration. In a flash of inspiration, Tate bluffs her bosses that she and Andrew are engaged and they push her to make it real. Bob, vindictive as he is, calls over to Immigration and declares the relationship a fraud, so Andrew and Margaret have to actually work to prepare for their marriage.

This leads the pair to Paxton's hometown in Alaska, where his family is influential. When Andrew's father, Joe, pushes Andrew the wrong way, Andrew reveals his intent to marry Tate. While Grandma Annie and Grace, Andrew's mother, work to get to know Margaret, Andrew tries to reconcile with his father and avoid the chemistry he once had with Gertrude. As the wedding nears, though, Tate begins to question what she is doing, even as Andrew becomes more resolved.

The Proposal is unfortunately formulaic and while it has a few decent lines, too much of it is repetitive and familiar. So, for example, the movie gets an easy laugh from having Tate in bed while Paxton is trying to fall asleep on the floor and having the two sing "It Takes Two" to one another. Paxton's falsetto is hilarious and Tate's mumbled singing is a great way to make the scene feel real from the outset. And while that scene works, very shortly thereafter, director Anne Fletcher and writer Peter Chiarelli have almost the exact type of scene with Bullock's Tate dancing while singing "Get Low."

Fletcher directs the film well enough, making decent use of the Alaskan scenery, but otherwise, she is largely hampered by a mundane script. Paxton is extorted into the arrangement and once one accepts the premise of The Proposal, it is hard to accept the execution of it. Paxton is legitimately pissed that Tate is extorting him over the marriage, despite Tate pointing out that her working him like a dog has not left him with a ton of options in the romance department. But once Paxton agrees to the arrangement, out of which he is getting a promotion and consideration for a book he wants published, his personality becomes decidedly less likable.

In short, while Tate begins as the main antagonist, rather rapidly, Paxton loses the viewer's sympathy. Instead of accepting the consequences of Tate's demand and his acceptance of the arrangement, he begins to treat Tate like dirt and the interplay is hardly one that it is easy to be empathetic to.

As well, The Proposal has long stretches without wit or much in the way of substance. For sure, Sandra Bullock is fine with her performance as Margaret Tate, but the movie goes for long periods of time where there is no humor and it is not dramatic enough for the viewer to care much about either of the main characters. Chiarelli is a clever enough writer to get Tate physically naked at the same time her character is stripping away her armor and between that and a scene where Paxton must keep her warm after she falls into the cold Alaskan water, there is some sense of character growth and development. The main problem is the movie feels familiar in the way the characters are progressing and the viewer is hardly emotionally invested in either character's journey.

Movies like this can be saved by a strong supporting ensemble, but while The Proposal fills the screen with wonderful actors like Betty White, the hilarious Oscar Nunez, and the stern Craig T. Nelson, this never becomes an ensemble character piece. Instead, the viewer becomes bored with the lack of chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock and are relieved for moments when one of the other actors arrives to appear zany for a few moments.

As for the primaries, Ryan Reynolds is good as Andrew, though he plays quiet and blank-faced more often than outwardly funny. He and Bullock do a great job at eliminating any sense of on-screen chemistry, but that works to the detriment of the film because ultimately the viewer doesn't buy the romantic relationship that is supposed to be budding between them. Sandra Bullock does raise the movie out of ultimately average territory, but not enough because the performance still feels familiar to those who have seen much of her work.

On DVD, The Proposal (the one-disc version) only comes with a commentary track which, frankly, I wasn't up for watching the movie again to peruse. In the end, The Proposal is fine, but not fantastic and for all the raving I'd heard before I saw it, I felt let down by the execution of a pretty predictable type romantic comedy. The Proposal is the romantic comedy without a real romance and too often without much in the way of comedy.

For other love/hate movies and romantic comedies, please check out my reviews of:
Valentine's Day
The Bounty Hunter
Did You Hear About The Morgans?


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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