We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
In this romantic comedy, Sandra Bullock's high-powered book editor faces deportation unless she can get put-upon PA Ryan Reynolds to feign being her fiancé
A thwarted couple finally gets together. This ending, the same in all romantic comedies, is an essential part of what makes the genre so attractively reassuring - but the real trick is the material that builds up to this inevitable conclusion. Get that right, and you have a hit.
The method used by The Proposal is to play join-the-dots with a number of motifs appropriated (and inverted) from previous chick flicks. Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a cutthroat editor for a New York publishing house who terrorises all her staff and in particular her capable assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds) - in other words, this is The Devil Wears Prada (2006) with a gender twist. Margaret is also, however, a Canadian native facing deportation from the US, and so pressures Andrew into pretending that they are engaged to marry so that she can get that all-important Green Card (1990) and continue in her high-flying job.
The unhappy pair then goes on a weekend trip to Andrew's childhood home in Sitka, Alaska, so that Margaret can Meet The Parents (2000) - and, though a fish-out-of-water, she is soon won over by the family's eccentric small-town ways, as in Doc Hollywood (1991) or Sweet Home Alabama (2002). And as with almost all romantic comedies, even put-upon employee-cum-slave Andrew turns out to have a well-moneyed background, so that when true love emerges there can be no unwelcome incursion of poverty or class conflict into the genre's bourgeois norms.
The problem with this mix-and-match approach is that The Proposition fails to settle on a consistent comic tone. It is one thing to indulge in the wacky spectacle of a CG eagle snatching the family's beloved pet dog, of Margaret rapping with Grandma Annie (Betty White), or of 'ethnic' clown Ramone (Oscar Nuñez) engaging in all manner of low-brow comic antics (in a film that definitely discriminates in its treatment of Mexican as opposed to Canadian migrants) - but all this broad comedy sits rather uneasily with the film's later attempts to get us to take the two accidental lovers seriously as characters, so that viewers will struggle to understand and engage with their journey from fake couple to real.
Sandra Bullock is the crowned queen of romantic cinema, her royal pedigree traceable in films like While You Were Sleeping (1995), Hope Floats (1998), Forces Of Nature (1999), Two Weeks Notice (2002) and The Lake House (2006). Compared to her, Ryan Reynolds is a new kid on the block, but with the rom-coms Buying The Cow (2002), Just Friends (2005) and Definitely, Maybe (2008) to his name, he too has past form in the genre. The joint appearance of these two actors on The Proposal's billing is enough to guarantee the film box-office success - but while individually these stars have excellent charisma and comic timing, together they lack that all-important chemistry that makes the genre work best.
For the film's first two thirds, this lack of a credible connection is excused by the plot, but when, inevitably, Margaret and Andrew do get together in the end, their union seems no less artificial, forced and contrived than the emblematic central scene in which they - accidentally, mind - fall head-on into one another's involuntary embrace while totally butt-naked. Some may find all this hilariously funny, but others will be left suspecting that there is little to this post-proposal romance beyond the mere demands of genre.
Despite some fine performances and pretty scenery, The Proposal is predictable yet incredible, and devoid of any consistent tone. Better call off that wedding.
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