Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Movie review: 'Proposal' recycles tired genre, and does it badly

Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock in The Proposal.

By John Thomason

As David Spade might have said in his classic “Hollywood Minute” segment on Saturday Night Live, “I liked The Proposal better the first time I saw it -- when it was called Green Card.”

The Proposal is one of those “marriage of convenience” stories, which flourished in the screwball zeitgeist of classic Hollywood cinema and have been recycled by romance novelists ad nauseam for decades since. Even in 1990, when Peter Weir made Green Card, the formula was already an old-fashioned chestnut, and if it’s possible for The Proposal to breathe any less life into this moribund subgenre, it would be gasping for oxygen at the altar.

Sandra Bullock stars as Margaret Tate, a hotshot Manhattan book publisher who runs her office of terrified editors like a Devil Wears Prada dictatorship. When she finds out she’s about to be deported to her native Canada, she forces her weak-kneed but pleasingly buff assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her in return for a promotion. Andrew agrees, but with an overzealous immigration agent watching them like a hawk, they have to make the charade as convincing as possible.

This means a hijinks-filled journey to the secluded Alaskan outback (according to the Internet Movie Database, the film was shot almost entirely in New England, but I won’t tell anybody) to meet Andrew’s family of head-shaking sitcom cutouts. With its simple, hardworking citizens and contemplative scenery, the small town could very well have been Sarah Palin’s approximation of her beloved Wasilla – sans the meth labs, of course.

Bullock has said she hates romantic comedies, suggesting that The Proposal is somehow exceptional because unlike most films in the genre, it doesn’t undersell its female lead. Puh-lease. Margaret Tate is as plastic a screenwriter’s construct as any romcom female lead. The film mistakes her arbitrary character quirks for genuine depth. Why, she listens to hip-hop! She has a tattoo! Those would be real edgy secrets – in, like, 1981.

And to show that Margaret is out of her element, she tries to log onto the Internet, which is – oh, the horror! – a dialup connection she doesn’t know how to use. Furthermore, Margaret is the only fish out of water who doesn’t know how to swim (wonder if that’ll come back to haunt her at some point…), and she flinches at the yips of a fluffy puppy. Not even strong enough to maintain the consistent wickedness of her Meryl Streep Prada paradigm, Margaret is the broadest stereotype of the citified crybaby, whose lack of outdoorsiness is as absurd as the plot’s fake-marriage crux and as phony as the film’s postcard-pretty vistas of “Alaska.”

The inconceivable contradictions that define Margaret’s character are all part of a Silly Putty screenwriting strategy: throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Screenwriter Pete Chiarelli will do anything for a laugh, whether it’s casting Office player Oscar Nunez as a dentally challenged exotic dancer gyrating his package to Frankie to Goes to Hollywood, staging the kidnapping of the family dog at the hands of a swooping bird, contriving an embarrassing moment of PG-13 sauciness when Bullock and Reynolds’ nude bodies collide, and employing Betty White as the wacky, perverted grandma who engages in spirit-summoning dances in the middle of the woods.

None of it works, because none of it is real. No two scenes are more painful in their fraudulence than the moment Margaret clunkily announces her impromptu “marriage” to her bosses and when Margaret and Andrew limply create a fictional proposal story to the rapt audience of Andrew’s family.

The worst part about these pathetic scenes is that they, more than any others, make or break the movie. Both actors play the moments so outrageously over-the-top that no one would believe them (instead, the only voice of sanity is that nasty party pooper at Immigration, himself an absurdly dedicated snoop who travels all the way to Alaska to expose the marriage fraud). If the two moments that need to come off real are demonstrably bogus, this movie has nothing.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

THE PROPOSAL. Studio: Touchstone; Director: Anne Fletcher; Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Betty White, Malin Akerman and Oscar Nunez; Rating: PG-13; Starts: Friday; Venue: Most commercial houses

1 comment:

Bowler said...

every time Bullock and Reynolds were close to each other in the Proposal i got the feeling that she looks/acts too old to be his fiance/girlfriend