I was surprised by how much I enjoyed "The Proposal", the new rom-com starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.
Andrew Paxton (Reynolds) is the assistant to an editor, Margaret Tate (Bullock) at a large publishing house in New York. Andrew has worked for Margaret for three years, three long, painful, dreadful years working for the ultimate Type-A personality as she works her way up the ladder. He puts up with Margaret because he wants to become a book publisher and he sees the path as her assistant. But this means he has to pick up coffee for her every morning, ordering his coffee exactly as she wants hers, in case something happens to hers. This means if she wants him to cancel a trip home for Gammy's (Betty White) 90th birthday, he will. This means that as soon as he knows she is on her way into the office, he IMs the other staff and the news spreads like wildfire. Margaret, poised to take over as head of the publishing house, is summoned to the boss' office. Her work visa has run into some roadblocks and she has to return to Canada and will lose her job. As she tries to convince her bosses she will take care of it, Andrew enters to tell her about a phone call and she comes up with a plan. She and Andrew will be married, solving everyone's problems. But this is the first Andrew has heard about it and he can barely stand the sight of her. He agrees, but only after she agrees to help him. They decide to go to his family home, in Alaska, to tell his mom (Mary Steenburgen), dad (Craig T. Nelson) and Gammy the news. When they arrive, Margaret learns Andrew's family owns most of the town. Mom and Gammy are surprised, but thrilled to learn of the news and insist they get married there, during their visit. An overworked and suspicious INS Agent (Gilbert O'Hare) watches their every move. Add Ramone (Oscar Nunez), the town's bartender, caterer, shop worker and stripper to the mix and the comedy begins.
Directed by Anne Fletcher and written by Peter Chiarelli, "The Proposal" just seems more real and less sitcomy than most of the rom-coms out there. Sure, there are contrivances in the story, to keep everything moving and to get the characters into the right places for the comedy bits, but the characters are more interesting and believable, and a lot of time is spent setting up the environment for the story giving everything a more believable feel.
Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds are a nice pairing on screen. Bullock has proven she is a gifted comedienne, able to make us laugh and enjoy her performances. Unfortunately, she has given us some dreadful performances in films that were painful to sit through and watch. In "Proposal", she plays a super Type-A personality who is not a nice person. Used to getting her way, she is abrupt and unlikable. She also puts her assistant through hell because she realizes he can use this position as a stepping-stone to a more prominent role within the publishing industry. She holds this over his head, controlling his life, afraid to let him move on in case he is able to leap frog over her.
The first time we meet Margaret, most of the office cowers out of her way, to avoid any contact with her. This is a funny and interesting way of establishing her character. When Andrew spills coffee on his shirt, he bribes another worker into switching with him. This is also an amusing change for Bullock as she usually plays nice and sweet. In "Proposal", she plays the flip side of her normal persona, giving her a chance to give Margaret a lot of development and as her character changes, we come to like a woman we initially disliked.
Ryan Reynolds plays Andrew and I am almost to the point where I have to label Reynolds an underappreciated comedic actor. After his funny turn in "Just Friends" and his small supporting role in "Adventureland", Reynolds has proven that he can do comedy well, making his characters interesting, believable and human. With "Proposal", he only serves to solidify this opinion. He seems to be playing Andrew as the straight man, but still manages to elicit some laughs. What this duality does is give the character more depth than you might expect.
Forced into a situation he didn't know anything about, he uses it to his advantage. But then, he realizes how hurt his family will be and has second thoughts, trying to justify everything he is doing. Reynolds does a nice job of portraying Andrew wrestling with this moral dilemma.
It seems like every romantic comedy has to include a certain number of 'wacky' people, to amp up the laughs. In "Proposal", Betty White plays Gammy, the matriarch of the family. I was glad to see that White was cast to play a character that is both funny and touching without being particularly bawdy, In many films, older people often seem to provide humor with some ribald remark, or to flirt with a twenty something guy. Look at the old lady. Isn't it funny that she thinks a young man could love her. This type of humor just seems sad and worn out. What this film does have is Ramone, played by Oscar Nunez (TV's "The Office"). Ramone first appears as a waiter at a party at Andrew's family home. The whole family seems to know Ramone and he flirts with Margaret. As the story progresses, we soon realize Ramone is a man with many jobs who wears many hats. He pops up in increasingly odd circumstances, making us laugh.
Craig T. Nelson plays Joe Paxton, Andrew's dad and the owner of most of the town in Alaska where they live. He wants Andrew to return home and take over the family business, which leads to a lot of animosity between them. Andrew really wants to be an editor and his dad can't understand why all he wants to do is sit around and 'read books'. This storyline is included to give Andrew another human edge (his father is pretty straight laced and wants him to come home) but the character makes a choice, which seems to make him the most cold-hearted person in the world. I honestly don't believe any father who actually loves their son could do the same thing. It robs his character of any empathy and makes him unredeemable.
Mary Steenburgen is good as Andrew's mom. But she seems to be included simply to act as part of a two-person female Greek chorus. She and Gammy go everywhere and seem to do everything together,
"The Proposal" is cute, romantic, funny and more believable than you might expect. The perfect film to share a warm weekend afternoon with your significant other.