Friday, May 9, 2014

The Proposal (2009)

Director: Anne Fletcher                                  Writer: Pete Chiarelli
Film Score: Aaron Zigman                              Cinematography: Oliver Stapleton
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson

If you enjoyed The Devil Wears Prada, this film takes the same idea and makes it better. If you liked Green Card, well, this isn’t quite as good and it’s pretty much a rip-off. But if you liked Overboard, this is the same idea only a lot better. As you can see, there isn't much that's original in this film. Nevertheless, The Proposal is a clever romantic comedy that steals a bunch of ideas from recent romcoms and mashes them up together into something that is surprisingly entertaining. Sandra Bullock plays a high-stressed, type-A businesswoman who abuses everyone around her, especially her secretary, Ryan Reynolds, who wants to be an editor and finally gets his chance in a very strange business deal. The film received mixed reviews when it was first released, which it certainly earned, but there is something about the film that works anyway and it is a worthwhile investment if you’re a fan of the genre.

The film begins in New York with Sandra Bullock in the role of the nasty book editor and Ryan Reynolds as her harried assistant. As hard as he tries, she is always critical and dismissive of him. Just a few minutes in he goes with her into Aasif Mandvi’s office and fires him without remorse. When she is later called into the office of her boss, Michael Nouri, she is told that as a Canadian citizen she should not have left the country the month before and her visa is being revoked. Instantly she hits on an idea that will allow her to stay in the country, and tells him that she is marrying Reynolds. Stunned, but used to agreeing with her to avoid her wrath, he confirms the story. Now, however, he’s the one in control and demands a promotion while unleashing all of the pent up sarcasm and anger than he has been repressing. But to go through with the marriage, even granting they’ll be getting a divorce, he has to tell his family in Alaska. This is where the real fun begins, as the two study for their questioning with the immigration service and begin to realize how much they really care for each other.

About the only thing that can elevate modern romantic comedies out of the slush pile is the writing. The screenplay by Pete Chiarelli, while absolutely derivative of a number of romantic comedies, is wonderfully clever. The jokes are spot on and make the whole thing so much fresher than the plagiarized plot would lead one to believe. The fact that this is Chiarelli’s only screenplay is probably one of the reasons it’s so good. The irony is, critics who panned the film on its initial release said they didn’t like the script, but it really is the best part of the film. Director Anne Fletcher began her career as and actress and choreographer. This was only her third film as a director and she does a nice job here. There are some moments that could have been improved, like the scene where Bullock is trying to rescue the family’s small dog from being carried away by an eagle, which comes off as very phony. But she also uses some great camera angles, like the one from directly overhead when the two are sleeping in the bedroom, with Reynolds on the floor at the foot of the bed.

One of the things critics seemed to like about the film was the chemistry between Bullock and Reynolds. But from my point of view, that is the least of the film’s successful qualities. Sandra Bullock, in particular, lacks the kind of charm typically associated with this kind of a role. She acts a bit too goofy and her style is a bit too broad for believability during the intimate moments. Ryan Reynolds is much better at holding up his end of their scenes together. The film benefits the most from a tremendous supporting cast. Betty White is magnificent as Reynolds’ grandmother, descended from Tlingit natives. His parents are played by Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson who do a good job of not allowing the film to degenerate into farce, and there are also some terrific moments in bit parts as the Alaskans. The Proposal is not a great film, not even a great romcom, but it does have a certain charm that is undeniable. For real fans of the genre, it won’t disappoint.

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