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Romantic comedies seem almost impossible to get right. There is a necessary formula to creating a successful film in this genre. Everybody knows the basic steps, and in theory, it should be incredibly easy to pull off. And yet time after time we endure these films, hoping for the best, and suffering the worst. So what do the (rare) successful entries have in common? The answer is chemistry between the leads. And this is something The Proposal has in spades.
This movie has absolutely nothing you haven’t seen before and nothing that you won’t be able to predict right away. However, Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock prove to be such a compelling couple, the calculated plot contrivances and forced comedy almost begin feeling natural. The film begins by establishing the relationship between Bullock’s character, Margaret, and Reynold’s character, Andrew. She is the reviled, fearsome book editor, and he is the submissive, yet sarcastic, assistant with dreams of something more. What could possibly trigger a relationship between these two opposites?
Well, as plot demands, she finds out that she is going to be deported back to Canada. The only solution would seem to be temporarily marrying Andrew, which means flying to Alaska to announce the engagement to his entire family. Of course she is going to learn all sorts of life lessons and grow to become a better person in the process, and of course they are going to fall in love along the way (if you’ve never seen a movie before, I apologize for the spoiler). And somehow, this all feels semi-believable, although slightly rushed. One weekend is not enough time to completely change a person, and yet, it sort of feels authentic.
Andrew’s hometown of Sitka, Alaska, is populated with an eclectic assortment of character actors, all in top form. His parents are played by the fantastic Craig T. Nelson, and by Mary Steenburgen, whom I’ve loved since her turn as Doc Brown’s love interest in Back to the Future III. His ex is played by Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II in Watchmen), and his eccentric grandma played by the still entertaining Betty White. The family dynamic is very believable and very entertaining. I was also thoroughly entertained by Oscar Nunez’s (Oscar from the Office) portrayal of Ramone, an eccentric jack-of-all-trades who pops up in the most random places throughout the film. A disturbing highlight of the film is his reveal as the town stripper. It was unsettling to say the least, but also hilarious.
Every actor seems to genuinely believe in the material. Reynold’s and Bullock are friends in real life, which is definitely felt onscreen. They have a natural back-and-forth between them; one that doesn’t feel remotely forced. Reynold’s brings the expected level of sarcasm to the role, but Bullock really seems to be trying something new. She is genuinely unlikable as the film begins, and she brings a lot of subtlety to her character’s transition.
As the film begins approaching it’s inevitable happy ending, I was surprised to find that I was rooting for the characters. I began believing in them as people, and not simply devices. The ending is completely earned, and will give fans exactly what they want from a film like this. It’s a very satisfying ending, and one that works far better than the alternate ending found on the recent Blu-Ray release.
This alternate ending demonstrates everything that could go wrong with films in this genre. I won’t give it away, but suffice it say, it is spectacularly unfunny, untrue to the style of the film, and gratingly obnoxious. This ending could have ruined the entire movie. I guess test screenings can occasionally do some good.
Other extras include three deleted scenes that aren’t missed. There is also an audio commentary with the director and writer, and a surprisingly funny gag reel. These almost never work for me, as they usually consist of repetitive dialogue flubs and people trying not to laugh. This reel feels a little more natural than most, showing the cast and crew as they really are. They seem to be playing to the camera, and actually having a good time. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a fun bonus. As is the new trend, the Blu-Ray also contains a digital copy, so you can watch the movie “on the go.”
I was very surprised with how well The Proposal turned out. The movie could have been another forgettable chick-flick, seen by many and instantly forgotten by all. This one should have more of an impact than most. If you are a fan of the genre, odds are that you will really enjoy this movie. And if you’re not, you’ll still probably have a good time. Other romantic comedies could learn a lot from this one. If the cast is strong, and the leads have the right chemistry, even a mediocre script can be made into a great film.