Friday, June 19, 2009

The Proposal

Romantic comedies can scare critics away quicker than a mob racing out of a burning building. It's hard to warm up to a genre that's let you down so often and so consistently. So settling down to watch The Proposal, all I really was hoping for was to make it out of the theater with my sanity intact.

Here's the thing: Aside from the contrived device used to get the film's stars together (and a few best forgotten groan-worthy scenes), the film actually works better than I expected. It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but for the genre, it's above average.

Sandra Bullock stars as Margaret Tate, a bitchy cutthroat book editor who is feared by all. Her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), sums up her character best as someone who is allergic to "pinenuts and the full spectrum of human emotion." When Margaret is faced with being deported and losing her job, she decides to blackmail Andrew-whose career track is tied to her success-into marrying her. The newly engaged couple take a trip to Andrew's hometown to learn about each other and prepare for a quickie wedding. And so the shenanigans begin.

As contrived set-ups go, it's not exactly new, but at least if feels more real than unlikely bets about trying to get someone to love or dump you, falling for the fake psychic who is helping you get over your dead fiancée, or reporters secretly writing stories about your crazy bridesmaid days. So many wasted hours and miles of celluloid. Have I mentioned my disdain for this genre?

In true rom-com fashion The Proposal gives us a contrivance which forces our characters into an uncomfortable position. However, from that point (for the most part) it allows them to react to the situation rather than inserting new misunderstandings and obstacles every ten minutes. Yes, there are plenty of moments where I groaned during the film, but during most of them I was chuckling too.

Smart casting can do quite a lot for a film. Both Bullock and Reynolds have starred in rom-coms which have worked, and those that haven't. Their inherent charms, and director Anne Fletcher's willingness to let them act like normal people in an extraordinary no-win situation rather than insufferable crazies playing out a tired script, make all the difference.

Reynolds is able to be gallant and gets to deliver some trademark sarcastic lines but is also allowed some quieter scenes dealing with his untenable situation. And Sandra Bullock slowly allows the cracks to show in her character allowing us to come to care for Margaret despite her surly disposition. Had this same script been cast with the likes of Kate Hudson and Jason Biggs I have no doubt I would have been trying to impale myself with a Twizzler 20 minutes in.

The trademark rom-com beats are all here, though thankfully the third act fight-break-up-and-resolution (which can usually last what seems like decades in movies like this) is handled with swiftness and aplomb. Future writers and directors should take note.

The film is still saddled with some bad scenes such as Margaret's spontaneous bachelorette party and a ridiculous chanting scene in the woods between Bullock and Betty White. Thankfully, for every such scene the film delivers, many others flesh out the characters of our stars and provide the audience with an understanding of their motivations. We get a little insight along with the antics, which is nice for a change.

I'll give The Proposal some credit for being a rom-com that wasn't painful to sit through and actually provided some laughs along with a pair of characters who probably do belong together, and even more importantly, that the audience wants to see get together. Guys, if your girlfriend has been dying to drag you to one of these, you could do far, far worse.

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