Veteran choreographer and Wedding Planner executive producer Anne Fletcher danced her way from her thematically ideal directorial transition in Step Up to kneeling down in the filmmaker's two nuptial obsessed follow-ups 27 Dresses and The Proposal.
Although Step Up spawned a sequel, Fletcher's sophomore effort, 27 Dresses which featured Grey's Anatomy, Ugly Truth and Knocked Up star Katherine Heigl earned a poor reception as just another "chick flick" cliche-riddled offering in the much maligned rom-com genre. Additionally, poor timing hindered Fletcher's Dresses from becoming an ideal fit as it was last year's first spring bride, reaching theatres weeks before other dead-on-arrival titles such as What Happens in Vegas and Made of Honor tried to romance ticket buyers. Yet, despite its benign familiarity, Dresses along with Honor starring Heigl's Anatomy costar Patrick Dempsey, were buoyed by their likable cast's tireless efforts to win us over along with a few unique twists on the predictable paradigm.
It's this same “cast as cheerleader” spirit that thrived to keep us entertained throughout Fletcher's early smash summer hit The Proposal, which was elevated before you even entered the theatre due to the star power of one of America's favorite sweethearts in the form of Sandra Bullock as its poster girl along with a nice unlikely Wolverine boost for Ryan Reynolds' increasing fan base. Likewise, The Proposal most likely drew in audiences seeking frothy, flirty fun and female escapism, which ironically is in stark contrast to the seasonal ATM of major movie studio franchise event movies like Wolverine that sound a bugle call that only fanboys can hear and are undeniably Hollywood's popcorn and butter as opposed to bread and butter.
Still just below the surface, since the films all come from the same "machine," they have much more in common than fanboys and Bullock fans would like to admit. For, typically franchise films try to up the special effects and jaw-dropping “big scene” quotient with every installment and likewise studio made romantic comedies seem to work the same way.
And while some like The Proposal are also guilty of using way too much CGI, traditionally rom-coms don't employ the technology department as much. However, they do follow the same patterns of repeating what's worked before. Remember how many gross-out rip-offs we had after There's Something About Mary became a huge success? They do this from the film's inception by gathering ingredients that have proven successful in the past for a screenplay that's as easy to predict as a good guy verses bad guy showdown in an action movie.
Then when that's in place, they assemble a familiar cast as if recruiting instantly recognizable players for an all-star baseball team by ensuring the audience knows the MVP's curveballs well. By staying within the same talent pool, they present individuals we've seen in variations of the role before and whose confidence we already have in the fact that Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds can hit a rom-com out of the park.
Although Julia Roberts was the first choice for the leading lady but as IMDb reveals would not take a pay-cut, Bullock has fun playing her serious, dominating and humorless wicked witch, hell on heels Devil Wears Prada like boss trapped in a typical Sandra Bullock rom-com such as Miss Congeniality, Practical Magic, Forces of Nature, Love Potion No. 9, Two Weeks Notice, While You Were Sleeping and Hope Floats.
Yet this time around, Sandra Bullock doesn't become the lovable free-spirited Sandra Bullock we were first enchanted by in Speed until nearly an hour into the movie. For her role as Margaret Tate, she plays the stereotypically gender like “male” to Ryan Reynolds' more sensitive, loyal, Two Weeks Notice meets His Girl Friday like "female."
A stiletto wearing dominatrix book publisher (a chick flick mandate!), Sandra Bullock's hotshot editor raises the blood pressure of the entire instant-message based office who pings her every move to one another in constant fear. Yet instead of the warnings flying around the floor's computer screens, it's Margaret who is struck with a warning early into the film that as a Canadian citizen, she will soon be deported unless she solidifies her citizenship in America.
And since Reynolds' loyal assistant Andrew is wrapped around her finger anyway, out of desperation to stay in the country she blackmails him with an Indecent Workplace Proposal of a quickie marriage and quickie divorce in exchange for his added demand that he finally gets the chance to become an actual editor.
Equally ambitious and risking jail time if he doesn't sell the relationship to the authorities, the muscular Wolverine star makes us swoon in obligatory shirtless moments while also reminding us why we fell in love with him in Definitely, Maybe as the American version of a young Hugh Grant. Yet although he agrees to Bullock's plan, he's the opposite of chivalrous for the first half of the film by testing her mettle via a public on-the-street proposal and bringing her to his grandmother Betty White's 90th birthday in his native small town Alaskan home.
Predictably the two go from loathe to love but the movie never fully convinces us of the chemistry between the leads other than the fact that they're both so darn likable as actors. Aside from the kiss that moves from acting to passion (again unconvincingly and blink-and-you-miss-it quickly) and one morning of tangible sexual tension, they never connect on the most basic conversational level.
Still, to its credit, The Proposal nicely sidesteps our internal questions about the easily spotted age difference between the much younger Reynolds and older Bullock since their roles not only swap “gender” tradition but “age” and “power” statuses as well. Most films would've thrown in a few lines about unease that likely Margaret would've had dating a young hottie. Yet perhaps realizing that if the situation had been reversed and we'd think nothing of a silly, mean-spirited middle aged male boss given a lesson in humanity by his younger female secretary as they fell in love, it is simply ignored.
Despite this one refreshing commitment, The Proposal garnered just passive smiles when it should've gone for laughs as though it was a background in-flight entertainment feature. Ultimately, the motivation of Pete Chiarelli's weak screenplay seems to have been to give Taming of the Shrew a While You Were Sleeping makeover with a Green Card premise. Yet throughout the film and in order to pad the running time, it's filled with moments inspired by dozens of other films, making The Proposal an unintentional "Scene It" rom-com game wherein you can guess the influence you're viewing onscreen whether it's Picture Perfect or Something's Gotta Give.
As a fan of Bullock, it's hard to look past the film's many, many missteps involving the star including a ludicrous strip sequence, a CGI eagle flying off with a dog and a downright embarrassing hip-hop dance in the woods with Betty White which made me recall Forces of Nature rather than While You Were Sleeping. Sadly, it's a part she's played so many times that-- without any respect for the characters or audience and with nothing new to work with from an inept screenwriter-- the undeniable talent of Sandra Bullock disappears to the point that she's just repeating herself like “Sandra Bullock” has become an interchangeable character instead of a gifted actress in need of better material.
Although it's hard not to smile during the movie, I was startled to realize that I hadn't genuinely chuckled during the entire film. And despite another superlative Disney Touchstone Pictures Blu-ray transfer that duplicates a theatrical level of quality in picture and sound, sadly I can only recommend The Proposal as a benign time-waster for a sick day. Along with the terrific high definition transition, the Blu-ray boasts an extra disc including a digital copy that's compatible on both Mac and PC computer. It's easily the only extra worth investigating as it comes with a laughless outtake reel and an alternate ending that again pulls from more rom-coms including Six Days, Seven Nights and The Wedding Singer.
Needless to say, my favorite feel good genre of the romantic comedy is in desperate need of resuscitation as far as original screenplays are concerned. However, until more great scripts get not only written but sold and produced as well, one temporary fix would be to cast actors you wouldn't immediately expect to find in the interchangeable films such as Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Connelly and Naomi Watts whose very presence would make the film feel infinitely fresher since it's against their type. And likewise, this would free up actresses like Sandra Bullock to show their range in something that doesn't have her tripping, slipping or playing second fiddle to a really bad male stripper.
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