The Proposal (2009) *

I go into movies daring myself to like them, at least when I’m on a themed watch. I think it’s more work and more interesting to find reasons to like something that you ordinarily might not. The Proposal came out in 2009, a year when I was going to see basically every movie in the theater out of boredom, so I already watched and disliked this one. But 2009 was “early days” and my story literacy was much lower.

If you asked me for a review of The Proposal in 2009, I would have said something like, “Everything is super sexist surrounding Sandra Bullock’s character and the end doesn’t resolve stuff right.”

I expected to have a much more complicated reaction to this movie now. And my review is certainly wordier and more-informed.

But basically, everything is super sexist and the end doesn’t resolve stuff right.

In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock is a Canadian about to get deported from the United States despite her work visa because she fucked around and found out. She insists Canadians aren’t the type we’re trying to get out of the country. I think she actually said that immigration enforcement is only there for terrorists, which is the way women like Sandra Bullock in 2009 says “not white people.” ICE is a monstrosity that terrorizes loads of people and Bullock’s character is fine with that but it’s not supposed to terrorize her. She dismisses all the people out in the immigration waiting room as like gardeners and stuff. Sandra Bullock’s character is massively racist.

Anyway, Bullock isn’t disliked at work because of her racism, but because she’s cold and work-driven and doesn’t fuck around with the feelings of people around her. This is another autism-coded Sandra Bullock character, like in Miss Congeniality, and yeah it all comes across super sexist. Her assistant, Ryan Reynolds, extremely insecure and defensive in his masculinity, runs around saying absurdly sexist things about this woman, and fostering an environment where everyone at work hates the powerful boss-lady.

I think we’re supposed to feel bad for him that this racist woman involves a sexist guy for fraud. Bullock leverages her power bribe Reynolds into faking an immigration marriage with her. And now we’re off to the cute part of the movie? Where they fall in love? Presumably? I want them to both kill each other.

It turns out Reynolds is ALSO RICH. We only care about rich people in this movie. I note this because class is a major element in romcoms! You often see cross-class romances because the fantasy of economic security gets a lot of people real horny, understandably. Bullock’s “While You Were Sleeping” is notable for being about people who feel like they could be your neighbors. Here, the wealth of Bullock and Reynolds’s characters is not part of a fantasy, but simply a fact that relieves Bullock’s character because she won’t have to bother putting up with poor people stuff, like a studio apartment.

I will resist a full synopsis. I don’t think The Proposal is worth my effort.

However, you should know that it turns out Ryan Reynolds is a “Kennedy of Alaska,” and his character actually has Tlingit descent via his grandmother, Betty White, who spends a while chanting and doing drums in the forest wearing regalia reminiscent of First Nations. This provides an opportunity for the racist character played by Sandra Bullock to have a “charming” dance scene and butt-shake to Lil John and the East Side Boyz. This movie is the whitest thing I’ve seen in a while.

Bear in mind when I say “the whitest thing,” I’m talking about the structures of whiteness, the things that Whiteness as a Caste in America loves. The power plays. The wealth. Colonization. Dismissal of nonwhite people as human beings.  The movie itself holds narrative approval for racist attitudes without challenging them, which is enough.

There’s also a character played by Oscar Nuñez, who seems to be a family employee? of the Alaskan Kennedys. He’s named Ramone and stands in dubious positions of subservience. He’s a waiter at one point and a stripper at another. One nonwhite guy to serve them all? That’s not weird. His presence reminds me of the way Mickey Rooney was called upon to play a racist caricature for “comic relief” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s almost like Bullock’s remarks being dismissive of nonwhite people is held by the person who wrote the screenplay and is thus incapable of writing a nonwhite character who is fully human rather than a leering caricature of servitude.

Regardless, I don’t think cutting the racist remarks from Bullock’s character, the Tlingit art used without context, etc would have saved the screenplay.

This screenplay is just kind of crap.

It’s barely a romcom, for one thing. It’s a romcom the way people who don’t understand romances write romance. It’s a movie where two attractive people realize the other person is actually a human, and because straight people don’t really need to know their partners in a meaningful way, they decide to be together at that point. They show us enough interaction between Reynolds and Bullock to justify a physical attraction, and even a friendlier work environment, but they barely have enough involvement for me to believe they’ll be long-term friends.

Neither of them markedly changes over the course of the movie. The plot changes *only* how they view one another, which takes us from bickering and drenched in toxicity to…respecting one another to do less sexual harassment (he likes grabbing her ass while she tells him not to do that).

Bullock arrives at the “grand gesture” from Reynolds and neither of them have changed! At all! Love didn’t change anything. Nothing healed.

This movie shallowly touches upon the beats of a romcom without understanding why the machinery works. Even tropes I ordinarily enjoy, like the heroine falling in love with the hero’s family, and the mere presence of Betty White, did not stop me from hating The Proposal all over again.

Romance should feel seismic and inevitable, and this just felt cynical, horrible, and shallow. Also racist.

So of course I looked up the writer. In addition to Kurtzman and Orci making their era-appropriate uncredited contributions, this is mostly written by Peter Chiarelli, “a former creative executive at MGM who decided to use his downtime after the company was bought by Sony to do some writing.”

That is exactly the kind of person who seems like they’d have written this movie. Full insult. I’d hate to see what was in his screenplay before Kurtzman and Orci got to it.


Turns out my 2009 impression of The Proposal was more than adequate. Including this movie in a watch of greater romcoms is a waste of time, and I walked away hating everything a little more instead of feeling hope.

(It’s a little funny revisiting this because I’ve hated Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock since the late 00s and I couldn’t remember why. Now I remember. They suit the project well. Full insult.)

(I didn’t post a banner image on this article because I looked it up and Disney owns The Proposal, and I’m not going to argue fair use for editorial purposes on a negative review with Disney.)

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