Any genre can be tough, but the romantic comedy provides special challenges. Chemistry between the two stars is paramount, because how else can audiences believe them as a couple? And while the formula is as predictable as a David and Goliath sports film--you know they're going to get together in the end--it's the journey that's supposed to feel different, fresh, and fun. That's not always easy, but how much different can you get than throwing together a New York publishing industry dragon lady and her mild-mannered assistant, whose family is the Alaskan equivalent of the Kennedys?
"The Proposal" is an unabashed old-time romantic comedy in the mold of the opposites-attract bedroom farces of the Fifties--those old Doris Day and Rock Hudson affairs--and the tone is just as playful. While "The Proposal" has been updated nicely for the '00s and features brief nudity, it still somehow retains an air of Fifties' naïvete--the sort of thing that will make theatergoers say to each other, as they walk to their cars, "That was cute." Or "sweet."
Sometimes the way opposites are thrown together feels utterly contrived, but we buy this premise without asking any questions. Sandra Bullock plays the scary Margaret Tate, a take-no-prisoners exec who fires people with the same casual ease she displays in ordering around her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds, "Definitely, Maybe," "Van Wilder"). The whole office is afraid of her, and Bullock is made up to appear more harsh and angular than her usual girl-next-door look. And how is she thrown together with her abused secretary? Informed by top brass that she's going to have to leave the country for a year because of immigration issues--she's Canadian--Margaret thinks on the fly and wings it by calling over her assistant for an awkward hug: "We're getting married," she tells them. Of course he plays along, because not to do so means his job, and just like that they're off for Alaska to meet his family, the first step in finalizing things. Privately she tells him, oh, come on, a marriage, a quickie divorce, there's nothing to it. But of course there's much more to it, and that's where the movie turns fun.
The onscreen comparison to the Kennedys is an apt one, because while the setting is Alaska the locations for this film are mostly Massachusetts with a little Rhode Island and back-lot work thrown in as well. Ryan, who looks a little like Jason Lee without the mustache, has just the right look and temperament to pull off this nice-guy-with-limits role. It's not easy playing second fiddle to Bullock and her dragon-lady persona, but Reynolds holds his own and manages just the right balance of befuddlement and annoyance. It's a part that, in the hands of a less-talented (or secure) actor, could have been a tonal disaster. Bullock, meanwhile, gets the chance to exercise her comic chops and play the reluctant romancer with the same easy flair that she displayed in "Miss Congeniality"--the 2000 charmer, not the 2005 bomb of a sequel.
But it's the second-tier casting that gives the two stars something more to push against, and it's hard to imagine a better trio of "family" than Craig T. Nelson as the slightly intimidating and suspicious clan head, Joe Paxton, and Mary Steenburgen as Andrew's unflappable, easy-going mom, Grace, or especially Betty White as the rambunctious, speak-her-mind Grandma Annie. Other family members blend into a background of Alaskan wildness and family togetherness, just as the office staff recedes. They're not expected to be anything more than that. Aside from an outrageously flamboyant (and yes, laugh-out-loud) performance from Oscar Nuñez as a not-terribly-talented stripper named Ramone, the picture belongs to these five actors, helped by the illusion that we're seeing Sarah Palin's Alaska.
Allusions abound, too, whether it's a nod to those old "Move Over Darling" bedroom scenes that evoke any number of Fifties' films or the introduction of a little white dog about the same time we're told he can't be let outside or the eagles will get him. Well, if you've seen "Meet the Parents" or "There's Something About Mary," you know that pampered pets don't fare well in romantic comedies like this. But to the credit of screenwriter Pete Chiarelli and director Anne Fletcher, not everything is predictable.
"The Proposal" is a better movie than Fletcher's "27 Dresses" (2008), which felt strained and contrived by comparison. In part, that's due to the easy professionalism that Bullock, Reynolds, and their three co-stars bring to the table. But Fletcher seems to have a better sense of scene this time around, and manages to capture just the right angle or shot more times than not. In a scene where Andrew decides to make his boss beg him to marry, a stationary camera stays with Margaret after he leaves the frame, at a distance and surrounded by negative space so that her unfamiliar sense of "imbalance" is mirrored by a literal attempt to get to her feet without breaking off one of her three-inch heels. Fletcher handles the nudity tastefully as well, showing nothing more, really, than we haven't seen on a Vanity Fair cover. It's still PG-13 by a long shot because of language and sexual content, but in this respect too "The Proposal" seems closer in spirit and tone to its Fifties' forebears than any of the current attempts at romantic comedy. It's a fun throwback to a simpler time that has a consistently breezy narrative and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. But this isn't a silly film by any means. Laughs aren't the main goal. The romantic storyline is, and in this respect too it reminds me of those old tried-and-true formula films.
The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer seems to have been a good one, as I noticed no arfifacts. Depending upon the scene, though, the color palette seems to vary. In the city there's an industrial, clean-looking hardness that's suggested by stronger black levels and less color saturation, while in "Alaska" the palette is warmer and more earth-toned, with less obvious contrast levels and more color saturation. Some scenes even look as if they've been enhanced with a wash to soften the look, because skin tones also seem to vary. But my point is that what we see on the frame is compatible thematically and tonally, so it's quite possible that it was deliberate rather than a problem with an inconsistent transfer. "The Proposal" is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and overall the picture looks very good.
But the sound is even better. The English DTS-HD 5.1 MA (48kHz/24-bit) delivers a consistently clear and crisp audio that captures the full sonic range with a nice rich timbre. Highs are bright and cheery, and the bass notes, while there's no rumble (hell, this is a romantic comedy, not an action picture, so who needs it?) the bass is robust, noticeable especially during musical interludes and the stripper scene. Additional audio options are in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
There's a nice little bundle of bonus features here. The commentary track with director Fletcher and writer Chiarelli covers all the bases and basically confirms what I got out of the film: that they tried to be faithful to the genre. But the commentary will be of more use to casual viewers than film buffs, because neither gets terribly technical or offers a textbook study on how to make a film. The pair introduces seven minutes worth of deleted scenes as well, and here we get a little more interesting evaluation of the scenes. Also included is another seven-minute segment in which we see an alternate ending, one which was justifiably snipped. It's pretty bad. The Blu-ray has one additional deleted scene, but other than that and a seven-minute blooper reel (why is it always SEVEN this time?), the only remaining "bonus feature" is a second-disc Digital Copy for transferring the film to portable media.
"The Proposal" doesn't blaze any new ground, but it doesn't raze any old ground either. It's a solid, old-fashioned romantic comedy that's more interested in the romance than in being silly or raunchy. These days, that's refreshing enough.