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Friday Film Review: The Proposal

The Proposal (2009)
Genre: romantic comedy
Grade: B+

Movies which are specifically made to be romantic comedies are often a mixed bag for me and often don’t work well enough for me to even finish the film. I had been eyeing this one for a while and watching the star rating at Netflix before finally deciding to take the plunge and put it in my queue. After I finished watching it, I immediately turned on the commentary track and watched it again. It worked that well for me.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), is a ball busting senior editor at a NYC book publishing company. Her faithful dogsbody of three years, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) loathes working for her but figures his wagon is hitched to hers so he does what he has to keep her happy and hopes it will pay off for him one day. That one day is now.

Margaret is a Canadian immigrant who has pushed off meetings with her immigration lawyer and done things she shouldn’t do, immigrationally speaking, and now it’s caught up to her. With deportation imminent, Margaret pressures Andrew to marry her so she can stay in the US legally. He’s no fool and, with a 5 year stint in jail and a $250,000 fine facing him if the truth comes out, he pushes for what he wants from her.

With her back to the wall, Margaret gives in with little grace but in order to start fooling the USCIS, she has to accompany Andrew on a weekend trip to his home for a family celebration. Once in Sitka, things really start to get out of hand and Margaret begins to see how her plan could end up hurting this family she’s coming to love. Will there be wedding bells or handcuffs come Monday?

Alrighty then. First off, I’m not sure how real the immigration aspects of the film are so I just watched those and laughed at the stellar performance of Denis O’Hare who plays the main immigration officer assigned to Margaret’s case. The questions he helped come up with which are shown being answered during the closing credits of the movie are hysterical. Be sure to watch for these.

The character of Margaret starts off as a Beyotch from Hell. Her employees hate her yet at the same time fear her wrath. IMs fly though the computer systems of the publisher warning of her arrival and when the news breaks about their (false) engagement, Andrew is subject to pitying and astonished looks from his fellow drudges. Yet Bullock manages not only to pull this off without making me hate her too badly but she also gets me to buy into her gradual change of heart about Andrew.

At first she’s appalled about going to Alaska, flying on a commuter plane, getting into a boat to reach the Paxton island home, facing the 50 guests at a party arranged to celebrate the engagement, attending a bachelorette party with Sitka’s only male stripper or joining Grandma Annie (Betty White) in her nature worship but soon manages to show a convincing change of heart.

But none of that would have worked for me if not for Ryan Reynolds’ performance as Andrew. Watching him think and react to what’s going on around him is a treat, especially in the scenes when Margaret first announces their engagement and while at the USCIS. You can see the wheels turning and his mind computing what he’s going to be able to twist out of his boss for his cooperation. Then he takes exquisite glee in turning the knife at every opportunity he can. Margaret will get what she wants but Andrew’s going to make her pay through the nose for it.

But as with Margaret’s change of heart, I can believe what Reynolds does with his character as he watches his bitchy boss show her softer side and begin to loosen up under the influence of his family who accept her into their midst. So when he does propose to her for real, I buy it hook, line and sinker.

Another thing I like about the film is that it has several places where it could turn onto the standard Hollywood rutted road of rom-coms but doesn’t. Subplots concerning Andrew’s relationship with his father and a former girlfriend could have gone the way I almost expect them to but they didn’t. It’s a little thing but another instance of the director pulling back from the usual cliches.

The film is filled with fantastic actors including Betty White who almost steals the show – watch for her facial expressions and perfect comic timing, Mary Steenburgen and Craig T Nelson as Andrew’s parents, Malin Ackerman and Oscar Nunez as well as the previously mentioned Denis O’Hare. They are all perfectly cast and do a superb job.

But I think what makes the movie work for me is the fact that it tries to pull back from overdoing it. The film makers go for some subtlety of emotion rather than broad OTT slapstick. Yes, some of the scenes are played for laughs – the stripper and the nature dance are two – but none of the characters comes off as or is made to look too much like an idiot – unlike other rom-coms I’ve seen recently.

I would agree with several reviewers who state that overall, the movie is formulaic but then, it’s a rom-com and the ending is supposed to be a reversal of the initial polar opposite main characters. But it’s the way that the film gets to that reversal that makes it different for me. Sharp dialogue, great scenery – even if it’s mainly computer enhanced, a great supporting cast and likable leads combine to give me a fun and enjoyable viewing experience. B+

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

37 Comments

  1. Kim in Hawaii
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 04:49:07

    I enjoyed this film when it was first released in the theater. Over the weekend, a cable channel broadcast it several times, so I caught several scenes as I was channel surfing. Bullock and Reynolds provide the right chemistry as boss/assistant and then American fiance/Canadian import. The irony, of course, is Reynolds is Canadian and Bullock is American!

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  2. sarah mayberry
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:14:06

    I was just thinking about this movie the other day. I love Ryan Reynolds. I love Sandra Bullock. I loved this movie. Even with some cheesiness, it was still very romantic. I am also very fond of Two Weeks Notice, which has so many clever, charming moments in the script and great structure. Have you seen How Do You Know? I quite enjoyed it as a low-key take on rom-com. Has some interesting, small, sweet moments in it.

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  3. Tabitha
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:31:08

    I love Sandra Bullock and this movie didn’t disappoint! I thought there was the right amount of chemistry — and hestitation — between boss and assistant…I loved watching Margaret around Andrew’s family and how they threw her off balance. The scene when the truth came out was a bit cliched but I expected that. Though I have to say the office ending was a tad too cheesy for me. Lol! And I love, love, love the interview questions at the closing credit was hilarious! I want to re-watch this movie now! lol

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  4. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:42:48

    @Kim in Hawaii: Yes. Love their chemistry together!

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  5. Evangeline
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:45:49

    I actually loathe this film. I rented it from Netflix last year based on my love for Sandra Bullock and the hype surrounding it, and found it shallow in execution and characterization, and utterly charmless. I still cringe over the character Ramone…

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  6. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:48:38

    @sarah mayberry: For some reason, How Do You Know didn’t work quite right for me. Maybe the characters just didn’t jell? And Jack Nicholson seemed to be playing the same character he’s played for the past 10 years. It had promise and I enjoy all the actors but just not in this film.

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  7. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:52:42

    @Tabitha: I agree about the “truth coming out scene.” It was cliched and here I could tell what was coming – script wise.

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  8. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 06:55:17

    @Evangeline: Having sat through my share of “where did the great Netflix reviews for this movie come from?” romcoms, I can understand where you’re coming from.

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  9. sarah mayberry
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 07:20:26

    @Jayne
    I really enjoyed some of the conversations Paul Rudd and Reese had in How Do You Know. I thought it was a bit different for a rom-com. But yes, Jack was playing himself. Again. I’m still holding out for you to see Hunting & Gathering…

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  10. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 07:38:07

    @sarah mayberry: It’s still not available from Netflix and there are only PAL editions at ebay, darn it.

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  11. dri
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 07:47:46

    Did you watch the alternate ending/deleted scenes? With the airport scene rather than the office. I thought it was quite clever that they chose to go back to the office rather than do the conventional airport ending although my god, I was so distressed that the happy ending I desperately wanted didn’t happen right then and there. But wonderful beautiful symmetry, I thought. *nods*

    I kinda love this movie. Rented it out twice, actually. And there’s something so fabulously delicious about that last line someone in the office shouts and the way Bullock and Reynolds roll their eyes in response.

    Also, Two Weeks Notice! Christ, I adore Sandra in that, especially with the Chinese food and the “Yes, that’s for one person.” Hee hee hee. My life on the screen. *snort*

    As for Ryan Reynolds, he’s definitely one of those actors I keep an eye on. Interesting choice in comedies, I have to say. Like Definitely, Maybe. And Just Friends. Interesting little twists on the whole romcom genre, I reckon. :)

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  12. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 08:40:27

    @sarah mayberry: @dri: I like Two Weeks Notice too. It’s another one I didn’t think I would enjoy and resisted seeing for years because of that. Will probably do a review at some point…

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  13. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 08:41:32

    @dri: I can’t recall seeing the alternate ending…must go back and check that out.

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  14. Jaci Burton
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 08:47:17

    I adore this movie. I love Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and they play their characters so well. The subtle reveals, the vulnerabilities as they really get to know each other is so poignant. It’s charming, romantic and sweet and the movie is damn funny in parts. I was utterly entertained and have watched it several times. And the closing credits scene in interview with the immigration officer is simply howl-worthy.

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  15. midnightblooms
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 09:17:46

    I’ve always loved Sandra Bullock. Most of her movies, if they are formulaic rom-coms, aren’t too predictable or have something more in them than just the formula and stereotypes.

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  16. Kristen A.
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 09:18:01

    Ok, I had zero interest in this movie, but then you said Denis O’Hare, whom I’ve adored since the first time I saw him in Take Me Out on Broadway. (Yes, that’s the first time I saw him in the show, not the first time I saw him, which happened to be in the show. I saw it four times and I don’t even live in the NYC area.) I’m requesting it from the library right now.

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  17. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 09:46:46

    @Kristen A.: He’s only got a few scenes but they’re priceless.

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  18. Jeannie
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 10:12:58

    Hoppin’ on here! I loved it, too. I think what made it work for me was the natural chemistry between Sandra and Ryan. You can tell they generally liked each other as people outside the filming of the movie. I’m a huge fan of Sandy, but that’s as a human being mostly. Not all her films work for me. TWN was good, but my all time favorite is still While You Were Sleeping. Bill Pullman has a lot to do with that, too. He’s the “normal” guy hero for me, if that makes sense.

    Great supporting cast in The Proposal. Betty White nearly steals the movie, and the scene in the woods when Sandy dances and sings that rap song, complete with naughty words, was an absolute hoot!

    I still love romcoms, cliched or not. Could it be because it’s the only time I get the television to myself? Ha! Bring on the Kleenex.

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  19. LG
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 10:43:16

    I’m in the “meh” camp where this movie is concerned. It made so little of an impression on me that I actually forgot I had seen it until I started reading this review. I remember thinking the movie was better than I expected, but that’s not saying much, because I expected it to be horrible. I still prefer it over Two Weeks Notice, though.

    @Jeannie: I’m with you – my favorite Sandra Bullock romcom is still While You Were Sleeping. I like the large, happy family and Bill Pullman as the nice guy romantic lead.

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  20. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 11:43:42

    @Jeannie: Not all of her movies work for me either. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Hope Floats over the years but have never wanted to sit down and watch the whole thing.

    WYWS is still my fav too.

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  21. Meredith
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 12:05:17

    I remember liking this film a lot, and not being totally comfortable with liking it! I found it a bit disturbing with regard to the choices the screenwriter made in how to depict Margaret’s horridness, most of which focused on stereotypically “non-feminine” traits (for example, her horror of children). Also, her transformation entailed her learning how to be ignorant/powerless (in a new environment where she knew nothing) and in need of saving (literally, at times – I seem to recall her falling into the water and requiring a rescue). It’s been a while since I saw it and I can’t recall my qualms with much detail, but I do remember thinking that one could read this film as, “Unconventional woman must learn to embrace stereotypical gender norms in order to deserve a good man’s love.”

    And yet, as I said, I liked the film. Go figure!

    (I adored Two Weeks’ Notice. I have such a soft spot for rom coms!)

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  22. Bonnie Dee
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 12:18:38

    It’s hard to find just the right rom com that hits all your buttons and isn’t too stereotypical. This one worked for me. The only part that utterly lost me was Bette White’s nature dance nonsense. They should’ve left that on the cutting room floor. So dumb.

    As for the dog getting swooped up by a eagle (or hawk?). That’s actually something we worry about with my little four pound terrier. It could happen.

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  23. Jayne
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 12:27:05

    @Meredith: I see what you’re saying about Margaret’s character having to change. But I still prefer this movie and the way it’s handled above – say – The Ugly Truth where Katherine Heigl’s character’s has to be made to look stupid and uptight on screen. She’s almost mocked as a character without even getting the fun of being a bitch before that is done.

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  24. Meredith
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 12:50:17

    @Jayne Yes, definitely agree with you about The Ugly Truth. I couldn’t even make it through that film! (I thought it was particularly odd that Heigl took that part after commenting about her discomfort with her role in Knocked Up.)

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  25. Jeannie
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 12:55:50

    @Jayne I had almost forgotten about Hope Floats. That one doesn’t really fall under romcom, though, does it? Very heavy subject matter in that one. I think you might like it if you sat down and watched the entire movie, just keep the box of tissues handy if you’re a crier, which I am. The supporting cast in that one is good, too. Gena Rowlands as her quirky mother, the little girl that plays her daughter (can’t think of her name), and of course the delicious Harry Connick Jr. He doesn’t have to open his mouth, but oh when he does…mmmm-hmmm.

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  26. Jamie Michele
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 13:30:24

    I never realized how much of a Sandra Bullock fan I was until I read through this thread. I seem to like her in anything — even those Miss Congeniality movies.

    Never saw that one where she played a woman on a drunken bender, or whatever that was. It looked painful. I avoid painful movies. Still haven’t seen Schindler’s List.

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  27. Kristen A.
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 14:36:22

    @Jayne – I figure that a few good scenes of Denis O’Hare with bonus Betty White is definitely worth borrowing from the library.

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  28. Janine
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 17:37:42

    I’m trying to recall where I saw this movie panned. I think it may have been on At the Movies? Anyhow, I didn’t followup on it because of that. Maybe I should take a look.

    I really, really like While You Were Sleeping as well, but my all-time favorite Sandra Bullock movie is the original Speed, where she plays the courageous bus driver. Keanu Reeves has such a great physicality to him that I wish he would make more action movies, but Sandra Bullock was a big factor in my affection for that film as well. It was the first time I saw her in anything and she was adorable!

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  29. Emily
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 17:54:08

    I loved Sandra Bullock’s performance in Crash. I also adore WYWS which made me think Bill Pullman needed the lead in more movies.
    I didn’t like her in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, yes I liked that book. I thought Bullock was too strong for the woman Siddalee was supposed to be(some of the supporting cast was not as good particularly Connor (character, not actor name.)) Despite that I like Sandra Bullock a lot, I think usually when I don’t like her in a movie she needs stronger material.
    I knew someone who Love Potion #9, but I never saw it.

    Ryan Renolds is nice but usually kind of bland for my taste. I was totally thrown when Kristan Higgins described her hero as looking so much like Renolds I had to try to remember what he looked like.I liked him in Definitely, Maybe.
    I didn’t see this movie, but I might now… Weren’t they in another movie like the Summerhouse or something?

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  30. Janine
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 18:40:16

    @Emily: I agree with you on Crash and The Secrets of the Divine Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I liked the first even though it was a tad heavy handed. The second wasn’t very good.

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  31. Amy Kathryn
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 20:09:27

    @Emily The Lake House which was a remake of a South Korean film called Il Mare. I liked both versions. It was Sandra and Keanu again.

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  32. dri
    Oct 21, 2011 @ 21:42:30

    @Jamie Michele: 28 Days! I was so nervous of that too but my gosh, it mas marvellous! It was particularly amazing to see Sandy out of control like that.

    I think that’s what I cherish most about her, that she almost always — especially in the movies she produces too — makes a point to do the unglamorous thing. My favourite bits in her films are always the bits at the beginning where she’s a single woman moving around her apartment where she lives alone, eating alone and quite content about it, to the point of being thoroughly mundane. It’s so real to me, just able to see that lack of concern on the screen. To wit, Miss Congeniality and Two Weeks Notice. Not to mention her eyebrows in the former. Hee. God, I love those eyebrows and the way she snorts and the spectacular way she trips in her walk of triumph shot.

    Mind you, still not touching The Blind Side. Oscar or no Oscar. *gulp*

    God, I adore The Lake House. Chris Plummer as Keanu’s dad. Awesomeness.

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  33. Cassandra
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 02:17:58

    I think this movie gets most of the rom in rom-com right but with the occasional disappointing deviation into cliche – presumably giving audiences what they have come to expect or going for a cheap laugh idk.

    The romance between the two worked for me. I felt if was intimate and special and I think that’s more than “chemistry”. Each character felt genuine and unique enough that they seemed like real people and not a formula.

    Ryan Reynolds won me over for good in this role: ambitious and flirtatious but sensitive and mature at heart too. Sandra Bullock also seemed more like real woman than 95% of women depicted in Hollywood.

    I hope the writers and directors do more of this stuff and the producers and studios step back. Only way we will see more romance in film that works.

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  34. Jayne
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 03:55:18

    @Jeannie: Hmmm, so Hope Floats is more of a romance drama? I guess I always had the wrong idea about it.

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  35. Jayne
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 03:56:58

    @Jamie Michele: I thought the first Miss Congeniality movie was fun but have not been interested in watching any more.

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  36. Jayne
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 03:58:20

    @Emily: I saw bits and pieces of Love Potion #9 years ago when it was playing on a cable station. I don’t think you’ve missed much by not seeing it.

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  37. Jeannie
    Oct 22, 2011 @ 21:23:28

    @Jayne Yes, Hope Floats is a drama with some romance thrown in. Not a rom-com in that that is the central focus of the movie.

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