Don’t Say I Do to This Romantic Comedy
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Credit: Walt Disney
"The Proposal" (opening June 19 throughout San Diego) desperately wants to be a screwball comedy. But Sandra Bullock is no Rosalind Russell and Ryan Reynolds ain't Cary Grant – although he does have a better six pack.
"The Proposal" has a simple comic premise: Margaret Tate (Bullock) is the boss from hell and when she faces deportation her simple solution is to marry her much put upon assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds). Immigration smells a scam so to prove that they are serious, the loving couple heads up to Alaska to announce their wedding plans to Andrew's family. Hate turns to love, the ice bitch of a boss melts, the cowering assistant finally grows a pair, and everything's tied up in a neat little package. Yawn.
The nicest thing I can say about "The Proposal" is that it was not as bad as I thought it would be. Reynolds bares his ass and his abs to nice effect; Betty White'sa hoot as the old grandma; and there's a cute puppy that gets picked up and dropped by an eagle. Those were all the highlights. The film was not as shrill or as hysterically amped up as I was expecting it to be based on the trailer. Bullock and Reynolds have a decent sense of comic timing, and Reynolds actually underplays some of the jokes to nice effect. But that can't make up for a script that is as predictable as a wedding in June. You know every turn the plot will take so there's no sense of surprise.
The film works best when it's in the workplace, which is a big Manhattan book publisher. There the film at least has the makings of some wicked fun as the employees IM-ing each other with warnings about the wicked witch's arrival each morning. But when the film moves to Alaska it gets all warm and fuzzy and loses what little edge it had. A woman director, Anne Fletcher, doesn't make this chick flick any better. She lets the film fall into abundant stereotypes about ruthless female bosses who go in the executive bathroom and cry when they get called a bitch. Rosalind Russell set a better example more than six decades ago. At least she could be one of the boys in "His Girl Friday" and crack wise with the best of them. But Bullock is the predictable bitch on wheels who send her poor assistant out for Tampax at midnight.
But "The Proposal" isn't as offensive and dumb as such recent fare as "Bride Wars" and "Maid of Honor." It at least sets its sights on the screwball ideal of the thirties. It falls far short but at least it seems to be aiming higher than some other recent examples of the genre. Fletcher's direction is crisp but uninspired. She goes for the easy laughs and seems uncomfortable with the slapstick gags and physical humor. She seems more at home with the verbal sparring in the Manhattan scenes and maybe if the film had stayed in New York it would have delivered something better. But then part of the film's message is wrapped up in the need to move the characters out of the big impersonal city with all its technology and emphasis on career, and get them out into the clean fresh air and comfy soft clothes. But the film wants to have its cake and eat it too, so while it condemns what Margaret stands for it also makes Andrew come from wealth and power too. But the film gets around this by simply having Andrew reject his family wealth, even though he gets to enjoy some of its benefits and perks.
Bollock seems to be getting a little old for these types of roles but on the flip side maybe the fact that the film lets a forty-something actress hook up romantically with a co-star a dozen years her junior is a good thing. Maybe Hollywood can find a place for older actresses, or at least ones who can play younger or be CGI-ed back to youth. But Bullock allows herself to be the butt of the joke sometimes, and that's good. Reynolds fared better in the romantic comedy "Definitely Maybe" where he had a little more material to play with. As Andrew, he never seems to take full advantage of how the tables turn for him. Betty White is always fun and everyone seems to have the good sense to just stand back and let her do what she wants.But the film leans on her like a crutch and doesn't actually provide her with good material. The filmmakers just hope that she will make whatever's written sound better.Oh and if the blond ex-girlfriend looks familiar and you can't place her, she's Malin Akerman who played the dark-haired Laurie Jupiter in "Watchmen." Here she gets to be cloyingly sweet and never kicks any ass.
"The Proposal" (rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language) is blandly cute and predictable. It's nothing more than a product nicely packaged for a very particular audience and I'm simply out of the demo. Where's a good zom-rom-com when you need it?
Companion viewing: "Green Card," "His Girl Friday," "Definitely Maybe," "Shaun of the Dead"
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