Thursday, July 9, 2009

M: Embracing the Bullock and "The Proposal"

I’m not really a girly girl when it comes to movies. Ok scratch that. I am pretty girly, but my girly movie choices tend to come more from Pride and Prejudice-like historical romps than critic canon fodder like He’s Just Not That Into You. In fact, I, like many self-proclaimed feminists, am oft offended by the usual Hollywood offering to women in my generation and can talk endlessly about it’s effects. But there was something about the new romcom The Proposal that made me say, “Hey, I really want to see that.” What surprised me more than my excitement about this movie was that I loved it. It is a quaint little film, so predictable it’s as if I was watching home videos and could narrative. As New York Times reviewer Manohla Dargis says, “You know the rest because you’ve seen (and read) it many times before.”

But that is the only point that Dargis and I agree upon. Dargis places this film into the large barrel that many romantic comedies, (often for good reason) end up in, saying that “Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, 'The Proposal' is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case.” She is wrong.

The Proposal is a story about the high-powered, unfeeling, and tough as nails Maggie, who bribes her secretary Andrew to wed her in order to keep her job. Instead, she ends up falling for him, and him for her, and losing her “wicked witch of the west” persona. I can see why Dargis would initially assume the worst about this film, that because we begin to see a new side to this soy latte drinking, high-heeled caricature (and Maggie is one in the beginning) as a result of her interaction with a man, that this movie is just as bad as the others.

But the reason that I love The Proposal is because it reaches surprising depth, even if it’s not an intentional effort. This movie is not, as Dargis says, “about bringing another woman to her knees.” Instead, it’s about the importance of family and connecting to others. Maggie’s personality does not change in the 3 days she spends with Andrew because his relaxed manner whips her into shape. Instead, a new side of her is exposed by meeting his family, in which it is revealed that she has been without family since 16 and has had to fight for success in a business that does not regularly make it easy for a woman to move up. It is her vulnerability that makes Maggie appealing, not because she is a woman, but because she’s had a difficult life and has faced challenges that are easy to relate to. It is in the silly moments when she goes between rapping and describing her parents’ death that we like Andrew fall for her. Unlike the heroine of 27 Dresses who has to balance multiple ridiculous wedding obligations and annoying loves, Maggie becomes more real than most characters for her genre, aided by the great work of Sandra Bullock who hardly looks her age and steals the show from the equally funny Ryan Reynolds. But these revelations are not one-sided. We also see plenty of vulnerability from Andrew as he faces his father’s disappointment and his own need to succeed and move away from home. Both become humanized and by the end of the movie neither man or woman is one their knees before the other; they are face to face.

Before The Proposal, I saw an extended interview/trailer for Katherine Heigl’s new film The Ugly Truth, in which she plays a high-powered producer that is taught lessons about loosening up by a sexual-predator/playboy star played by Gerald Butler. In it, Butler trains Heigl how to be what a man wants, from her underwear to her topics of conversation. Perhaps it is this trailer that Dargis is recalling, because that certainly seems to be the movie she’s describing in her Proposal review. It’s clear to me, just from the picture on that poster, that my review of that film will be drastically different.

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