|by Brian Orndorf
Sandra Bullock has been making movies like “The Proposal” for quite some time now. The romantic comedy is her Jedi power, and while the majority of her output has been either strained or downright intolerable (“Two Weeks Notice,” “While You Were Sleeping”), Bullock deserves some credit for her refusal to give up on the genre. “The Proposal” is harmless fluff, but it’s a dull routine, somehow lassoing the jumping bean charisma of co-star Ryan Reynolds to help liven up a confused screenplay. Regardless of the changes in setting and leading men, this is still Bullock running off the same old battery, and the fatigue is becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.
A book publishing executive, Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a frosty corporate tightwad, running her executive assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), ragged with demands and errands. Finding her U.S. citizenship has expired, Margaret is in need of a miracle or else she loses her job and returns home to Canada. Margaret’s hasty plan to remain in the country is to marry a perplexed Andrew, who goes along with the scheme on the condition of a brighter workplace future. Off to see his parents (Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen) and grandmother (Betty White) in remote Alaska, Andrew takes Margaret along for the trip, sending his prissy boss into the great unknown of a warm family environment. During this trip, Margaret and Andrew are forced to learn about each other in order to thwart the diabolical plans of an immigration agent, leaving the two to build a romance from glares to marriage in three short days.
Through her work on “Step Up” and “27 Dresses,” director Anne Fletcher has demonstrated an incredible knack to turn exciting explosions of attraction into the dullest motion pictures imaginable. She’s a robotic studio filmmaker terrified to inject untested elements into her work, and she’s found yet another bland sitcom with “The Proposal.”
Written by Pete Chiarelli, “The Proposal” is an astonishing piece of hackneyed plotting in search of artistic oxygen to keep itself alive. Fletcher offers little assistance, seemingly encouraging the trite edges of the writing with her mindless directorial gloss, leaving the heavy lifting in the arms of the actors. For what they have to work with, stars Bullock and Reynolds make it out alive, sharing a passable chemistry as they shadowbox the “opposites attract” routine, trading quips and raised eyebrows while they iron out character quirks.
Bullock has never been a hefty comedienne, but she’s carried well by Reynolds and his sharp timing, a skill severely missed when Bullock has to generate laughs on her own. The two also share a strange nude scene, which is a convincing argument for their screen pairing, though both are powerless to the sunshine beams emitting from Betty White, here as Andrew’s “grammy.” White steals the movie from the youngsters with her tightly honed gifts for comedy and eccentricity, lending “The Proposal” some much needed bite.
But what to make of Malin Akerman? The “Watchmen” star appears here as Andrew’s former Alaskan flame, who still pines for her lost beau. The character is introduced with a promise of further exploration and possible deployment as a gum-in-the-works figure to tempt Andrew away from Margaret. The arc never comes to fruition, and that’s a missed opportunity. Granted, the choice between stiff Margaret and her thawing nerdom (via a declaration of love for Rob Base -- cue the “It Takes Two” sing-along) vs. perpetual Alaskan pine tree bliss with Akerman is unfair (I vote for the blonde with the big heart), but to have the character gutted out to keep the leads within constant reach damages whatever suspense is permitted access by Fletcher.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) on the BD is comfortable, but never extraordinary. Coated in an amber glaze, skintones come across hot and glorious “Alaskan” vistas seem muted, though color is available for community sequences and changes in location. Detail is generally good, especially when it comes time to ogle the film’s stars in various stages of undress. The artificial, greenscreen nature of the cinematography seems highlighted beyond intent, creating a plastic feel to the film that never quite washes away. Black levels stay consistent, creating very few problems.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is pleasant to the ears, keeping the volatile exchanges of flirtation and frustration easy to distinguish, suitably balanced with the various soundtrack cuts that fill in the quiet spaces of the film. Surround activity is mainly reserved for slapstick hijinks (eagle attacks, strip club visits) and location atmospherics, creating a warm environment, with the waterfront scenes making the best use of nuanced sound effects and score cues. Nothing ever pushes too hard, softly supporting the feature along the way.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary from director Anne Fletcher and writer Peter Chiarelli provides a fluffy chat on the making of the film. No major revelations here, it’s more of a celebration of achievements and an itemization of location challenges. Fletcher and Chiarelli also wax rhapsodic about the cast, with particular attention to Betty White, who was (justifiably) beloved on-set. The conversation never takes any unexpected routes, and while the upbeat energy of the duo is enchanting, there’s little offered here that helps to deepen any appreciation for the film. The commentary is as shallow as the feature.
“Deleted Scenes” (6:32) showcase a few longer moments of exposition that were rethought for the final cut, and an extended take with actress Malin Akerman that fills in her entire reason to be in the film. They can be viewed with or without commentary from Fletcher and Chiarelli.
“Alternate Ending” (6:35) lends more a “Crocodile Dundee,” fractured communication twist to the ending, and it doesn’t work. Neither funny nor effective. It can be viewed with or without commentary from Fletcher and Chiarelli.
“Set Antics: Outtakes and Other Absurdities from ‘The Proposal’” (6:33) is a bizarre collection of random jokes and mix-em-ups from the shoot. It feels more like a high school video yearbook (Fletcher being the drama geek spaz) than a generous assortment of laughs, missing needed on-set spontaneity.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
Surely with romantic comedies, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Through the removal of any potentially interesting roadblocks for Andrew, “The Proposal” essentially gives away any hope that logic might win over dreary Hollywood structure.
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originally posted: 10/17/09 01:12:31