Movie Review – The Proposal (2009)
by HELEN GEIB
The Proposal is not original, but it is judicious in its selection and arrangement of familiar elements. The plot blends two classic romantic comedy situations, while the denouement borrows liberally from one of the genre’s best, While You Were Sleeping. Mix in another great performance by Sandra Bullock and an equally good one by Ryan Reynolds and you have a rare contemporary Hollywood romantic comedy that is actually romantic and funny.
Before I saw The Proposal last week I hadn’t seen a good romantic comedy in the theater since December, 2006, so I’ll admit I was ready and willing to be pleased. (In case you’re wondering, it was The Holiday. The last one before that was Something New in February, 2006.) I’ve seen almost as few as I’ve liked in the intervening two and a half years; most of the offerings have been too gruesome to contemplate consuming. Like screening potential boyfriends for past felony convictions and other deal-breakers, it’s important to assess what a romantic comedy doesn’t bring to the table as well as what it does offer. The Proposal doesn’t bring pervasive crudity, inveterate stupidity, a bimbo, or an unreconstructed male chauvinist.
The occasional mild vulgarity and sometime silliness of The Proposal fall well below my tolerance threshold in these matters. (I do not demand that a contemporary Hollywood comedy of any stripe be completely free of crudity or stupidity; no point in tilting at windmills.) And much more important, both the heroine and her love interest are intelligent, attractive, and basically well-adjusted adults.
I allow some wiggle room on that last criterion because if these two were entirely well-adjusted, a) there’d be no movie because the plot would never get underway and b) they would still make a romantic couple, but they wouldn’t make a comical one.
What sets the plot in motion is high-powered New York publishing company executive Margaret’s (Bullock) discovery that she is about to be deported to Canada. The workaholic’s answer is to cow her browbeaten assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into marrying her. She gets a green card, he gets a promotion to editor; they both get to stay in the book business they love. Their mutual antagonism obscures mutual respect, and respect turns to love during a weekend of forced intimacy as they pretend to be a couple for the benefit of their immigration agency caseworker and Andrew’s family and friends in his Alaska hometown.
Classic rom-com situation number one is the two-pronged reversal of the power relationship between Margaret and Andrew: she needs him to say “yes” at the wedding and small town Alaska is not her native element. Classic situation number two is the pretending to be a couple for a few days storyline. These set-ups have reliably paid dividends in character development and love affair encouragement in many romantic comedies and this one is no exception. It’s no slight against the other components of the filmmaking to say that the situations are mostly made to pay by Bullock and Reynolds’ note-perfect performances and great on-screen chemistry.
One of the things I most liked about The Proposal was the gradual progression of Margaret and Andrew’s romance. They’re surprised when they realize they’re in love, but we’re not because we’ve seen it growing through the film. We’ve seen it in the time Andrew defends Margaret to his father as one of the most respected editors in the business even though he still thinks he hates her, in the time Margaret tells Andrew what her favorite book is because she wants him to know her as more than a collection of calendar entries, in the way they’re comfortable in each other’s company without being aware of it.