Directed by the multi-talented Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, Step Up), ‘The Proposal’ is a light-weight slice of classic rom-com, bordering at times on the absurd and even downright strange – in this case just enough to prevent the film from becoming yet another saccharine re-telling of the boy-meets-girl scenario. Like other films of this genre, it doesn’t always attempt to make too much sense of the occasional gap in the plot, nor does it trouble itself with resolving all of its character arcs or tying up all its loose ends – but there is more than enough here to satisfy, not the least of which is the sight of Ryan Reynolds almost naked (so close to FFF material Enty!)…and let’s face it, for most of us anyway, seeing Ryan in the altogether would be worth the price of admission alone.
Damn you Scarlett!!!
Playing second fiddle to Ryan (well, at least in my mind anyway…I’m only human) is Sandra Bullock, in a mostly satisfying return to form after what has seemed like an endless string of meaningful roles in meandering films, designed to showcase her as a ‘serious’ actress. Whatever Sandy! Stop boring us and stick with what you do best, okay?
It has to be said that Bullock plays a very believable hard-arse, her Margaret Tate calling upon equal parts Miss Congeniality and Hillary Clinton in her portrayal of this morally void and emotionally neutered book publisher, who finds herself about to be deported back to Canada pretty much solely through her own arrogance and belief that rules are for other people.
Reynolds plays her long-suffering assistant, aspirant editor Andrew Paxton, who soon becomes Margaret’s ticket to residency. The fact that he loathes her and she treats him like shit is of little consequence to Margaret, and Andrew finds himself blackmailed into going along with the whole charade in order to keep his job. Of course, it isn’t long before the authorities get wind of these questionable plans, and during an interview with a particularly smarmy visa official (played to perfection by Denis O’Hare), Margaret shamelessly invites herself along on a trip to Alaska that weekend for Andrew’s ‘Gammy’s’ 90th birthday…the same one she had forbidden him to attend only hours before. Bitch.
We follow Margaret and Andrew to Alaska where the fun – and confusion – really begin. I say confusion because there is a lot that doesn’t add up here and some things that are just quite simply odd about the whole outing – from the simple mechanics of the film, with some dodgy green-screen action and some terrible continuity blunders – to the vague and unresolved characterisations and situations that pop up here, leaving us either wanting more, or simply wondering why. The good part is, most of these peculiarities create some great belly-laugh material, but one wonders if this was deliberate, or simply a happy coincidence.
The reliable Mary Steenburgen plays Andrew’s mother Grace, tasked with playing straight woman to the ageless Betty While, who quite simply steals the show as Grandma Annie. Steenburgen grins inanely throughout, propped up next to White like some sort of ventriloquist doll on Prozac…in her defence, there was very little she could do to shine next to White, who turns in an outrageously off-beat performance and shows here she has lost absolutely none of her charm, charisma or acting chops, her comedic timing as perfect as ever.
White plays Grandma Annie somewhere between a sundowning nanna and a complete oddball earth mother who has quite possibly seen a few too many Alaskan summers. The scene where Bullock comes across her in the woods chanting to…well, I’m not quite sure what she was chanting to…and dancing around in a blanket tricked out like some kind of ‘Craft Corner Deathmatch’ version of a Native American ceremonial robe, is one of the highlights of the film and sure to raise a laugh, especially when Margaret happens across Gammy, and winds up shakin’ her own thing alongside her in the woods.
It takes a while for Margaret to get to that point of course…suffering the weekend with Andrew’s family is a price she’s willing to pay to get her way, but for the glacial Margaret, pretending to be in love is quite another thing. As family and friends gather for Gammy’s party at the palatial Paxton family compound in a remote (from New York at least) and stunning part of the Alaskan wilderness, Andrew and Margaret have nowhere to hide from the scrutiny of their ‘relationship’.
Andrew’s family is of course delighted to have the prodigal son and his fiancée home for this momentous weekend, but before we know it, Gammy’s birthday celebration is hijacked and the happy couple find themselves on the way to the altar in a matter of hours, as Andrew’s mother tries to patch up his fractured relationship with his father (which is never satisfyingly explored). But of course! Because this is what you do when you’ve only just found out your only son is engaged to a woman he’s been calling ‘the barracuda’ for the past three years!
Did I mention unlikely plot twists that don’t quite add up? Anyway.
Everything is played very broadly and for maximum laughs, and for the most part this shallow schtick works really well. Especially hilarious is the turn by Oscar Nunez as the slightly disturbing Ramone, “the island’s only exotic dancer” (the fact that his services are in any way in demand in this community does it no credit, believe me) and Margaret’s newly-minted stalker. Along with Betty White, Nunez provides the star comedy turn of the film, despite leaving you feeling faintly creeped out by his performance.
Bullock and Reynolds fit perfectly together as a romantic duo, each very sure of their turf and both very strong comedy leads in their own right. They play off each other confidently through both the light and dark moments of the film, which is just as well because apart from Nunez and White, their supporting cast is left floundering and indistinct – along with Steenburgen, Malin Akerman as Andrew’s ex girlfriend Gert, and Craig T Nelson as Andrew’s father Joe are both lost in the story somewhere, and you definitely get the sense that much of their story was trimmed away to draw the focus back to our two leads.
In any case, we never really figure out what their stories were meant to contribute to the film’s plot, and they’re both left dangling as afterthoughts in the larger scheme of this film.
Despite its faults, there are some great moments to this film and plenty of laughs throughout. Reynolds is sharp and funny and makes great eye candy, and Bullock is fun and capable as always. It’s not brain surgery, but like Fletcher’s ’27 Dresses’, you won’t be going to see ‘The Proposal’ expecting anything other than pure candyfloss entertainment…and in this I can promise you won’t be disappointed.