Proposal, The

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/19/09 14:00:00

"While You Were Copying Past Success"
1 stars (Total Crap)

It’s a little known fact that between 1993-1995 I was actually engaged to Sandra Bullock. Granted, it was a reality that only existed when I was asleep but I’m sure there were many guys during that period smitten with her girl next door charms and natural adorableness. Most male culture caught on to her during the summer of ’94 when she took the wheel of a hijacked bus in Speed, but I was already on board after the previous fall’s underrated Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Demolition Man. By the time While You Were Sleeping opened the following spring, I was already on my knees ready to follow her career wherever it took her. Unfortunately, that list over the next few years included such duds as Two If By Sea, Practical Magic and Forces of Nature. The relationship started to get pretty rocky, but hope floated in little seen efforts like Gun Shy and Murder By Numbers and I was even forgiving enough of the charms of her and Hugh Grant in Two Weeks Notice to still believe that with a little counseling the dream nuptials were still worth preserving. After seeing The Proposal it might be time to officially file the papers.

Bullock plays Margaret Tate, the kind of bitch-on-heels that instantly inspires fear in the hearts of her co-workers who send messages to each other’s computers that she’s entered the premises of her publishing office. Her personal assistant is Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), whose desire to become an editor himself forces him to endure such horrendous workplace tasks as taking notes and getting her coffee. Margaret receives news from her boss (Michael Nouri) that her visa application has been denied and she is being forced to return to Canada. Not wanting to lose her job, a lightbulb goes off in her head when Andrew enters the office and uses the words “Mary” and “engaged” in a sentence. She tells everyone that the two have been secretly dating and marriage is in their future. Andrew reluctantly agrees to go through with it in exchange for the promotion he’s spent his time in New York chasing.

The engagement just happens to coincide with Andrew’s grandmother’s (Betty White) 90th birthday so it’s off to Alaska to break the news. His mother (Mary Steenburgen) is so happy to see Andrew that she’s ready to accept anything and throw them an actual wedding on the same weekend. Dad (Craig T. Nelson) has been estranged from Andrew for some time since he considers this silly book editing to be secondary to taking over the family business, which appears to be the entire Alaskan town of Sitka. Margaret and Andrew have to put on a good, though uncomfortable, front to convince everyone of their love for each other – including an INS agent (Denis O’Hare) who has nothing better to do than to diminish the surging population of illegal white women from the Great White North. Of course, who needs convincing when everyone in the audience knows precisely where this is headed – and not in the guise of some treatise on the monotony of marriage.

The Proposal is one of those romantic comedies where the cutesy music tells you right from the get-go that none of what you are about to see is supposed to be taken seriously. But couldn’t the filmmakers have delayed that aspect enough to make us believe just for a second that people are seriously fearful of Bullock’s character? She’s not in the league of bosses from hell Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks or his female counterpart, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Anyone with any reasonable work ethic watching her antics in the first 15 minutes should find it hard to disagree with any of her tactics. She fires one guy for clearly not doing his job and everyone else makes the cast from The Office look like a scene out of Metropolis. Naturally she’s all just a misunderstood shrew who reveals her insecurities during a bedtime chat with Andrew in a moment that was remindful of the type of hugable Bullock moment that endeared us to her so many years ago. Perhaps a little too remindful.

At a time when the window between cinematic remakes aren’t even waiting for a new generation, I was stunned at why Bullock would want to sign onto a film that bore more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned While You Were Sleeping. While not a straight remake, both films feature Bullock as a woman trying to pass off a phony engagement and ingratiating herself into the family life she hasn’t had in a long time. The Proposal’s bedtime confessional may as well have featured Peter Gallagher lying next to her in a coma (something Reynolds nearly pulls off) and everything leads up to a wedding that’s stopped when Bullock turns to everyone to confess her sins, apologize to everyone and walk back down the aisle herself while the family chastises their son behind her. The difference between the two is that While You Were Sleeping was a real charmer that established (however unbelievably) that the cute-as-a-button Bullock could be lonely in Chicago. It didn’t turn its family into caricatures and while it contained the occasional moment of cheapo humor (remember the paperboy falling off his bike?), it didn’t use it as the standard. The Proposal’s big laugh moments include a dog’s encounter with a hungry hawk, Bullock having an embarrassing search for a towel after a shower, Margaret falling out of a speeding boat - and an impromptu bachelorette party with Alaska’s everyman minority shoving his nether regions in Bullock’s face. I haven’t even mentioned Betty White reenacting what I can only assume is Sitka’s performance-in-the-park rendition of Neil LaBute’s Wicker Man remake.

The Proposal at many times appears to be a wackier play on the sexual politics of Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away, with Reynolds getting hand (usually on Bullock’s ass) in the relationship and embarrassing her at every opportunity. Though Bullock looks great (especially in the barely-crotch-covered shower goof), Pete Chiarelli’s witless script never chooses to acknowledge the age difference between the two. You think the word “boytoy” would have found its way somewhere into the venacular of their less-than-believable ruse. Director Anne Fletcher, in just three films (including Step Up and 27 Dresses), has practically established herself as the anti-feminist, playing more to the hopeless ring chasers out there rather than those who might be insulted at the prospect of independent women needing a man in their lives to complete them. As for Sandra Bullock, the honeymoon has been over for a while now. I wish her all the best and hope we can still be friends. Camps will be divided over whether The Proposal is passable rom-com fluff or uninspired, borderline insulting junk. Personally, I will be cozying up again with While You Were Sleeping, and I encourage Bullock’s fans to do the same so we can all remember the way we were.

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