Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Proposal (2009)

There has been talk lately of Michael Bay as an auteur. This is healthy discussion as it does good to remind us all that acclaim is not a prerequisite for an auteur and talking about a director in such terms is not necessarily an endorsement. This thought came to me while watching, of all things, The Proposal, choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher’s third film after Step Up and 27 Dresses. She makes films in a flat, unremarkable style centering on female characters whose professional drives cause them to neglect their personal lives. Her films aren’t good – I’ve yet to like one of them – but they share this theme. Is Anne Fletcher an auteur? Maybe so.

The Proposal isn’t a good film despite the (diluted) presence of likable comedic performers Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. The set-up is crisp, clear screwball template: career-woman Bullock will be deported and demoted unless she can get a green card. The door opens and there stands Reynolds, her handsome assistant. She can’t get deported, you see, because they’re getting married. (If he doesn’t go through with the ruse, she tells him behind closed doors, she’ll ruin his career.)

To prove it’s a true marriage to a steely-eyed government official, the two of them take off for Alaska and Reynolds’s hometown. Lots of tomfoolery occurs and it’s nice to see so much of the comedy (initially) rest on the faces of the leads. The first several minutes of the movie is fairly entertaining as Bullock and Reynolds can bring down the house with the smallest shift of their expression. It’s not so nice to see these quick-witted, likable actors saddled with a dreary plot that cares more about the coincidences and contrivances than the characters or the chemistry between them. I never bought that the two of them would fall in love. Nor did I believe Reynold’s twinkly-eyed sitcom family, including big-hearted but cold-shouldered dad Crag T. Nelson, warm and loving mom Mary Steenburgen, hottie (and nice! and smart!) ex-girlfriend Malin Akerman, and too-good-to-be-true grandma Betty White.

This is all sitcom-ready casting and material, but this is no half-hour pilot. The movie drags on for nearly two hours with limp, hokey slapstick and unbelievable leaps and changes within the characters. That I uniformly liked the cast made it all the more disappointing. With this cast, and this situation, this could have been an overheated, tightly-wound screwball comedy (or at the very least a door-slamming farce) but it was not to be. The movie never gets the right momentum for takeoff.

By the end of The Proposal, I began to rethink my initial thought about Anne Fletcher as an auteur. Sure, she’s returned to the same theme three times now but is blandness a distinctive enough style? After sitting through an overlong supposed comedy (you can tell it’s funny because the poster is white with red letters) that neither worked as intended or irked, I came to only one firm conclusion about Ms. Fletcher. I’m not ready to defend her until she makes a film that’s worth my time.

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