Doris Day Redux


SAN MIGUEL DE ALLENDE -- Watching The Proposal in a Mexican multiplex does supply this romantic comedy about immigration with an unsettling moral twinge. So let's quickly address the little that's wrong with Sandra Bullock's latest.

As you've garnered from the commercials or viewing the film -- as much of the female American movie-going public has already -- the visa application of Margaret Tate (Bullock), a high-end editor at a major publishing company, has been denied, and she's being deported.

Tate: "Deported? It's not like I'm an immigrant or something. I'm Canadian."

To remedy the situation, Tate blackmails her assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), a full-blooded American, into marrying her.

Before that can occur, though, the duo, thanks to a plot device, has to visit Paxton's family in Sitka, Alaska.

Now in Sitka, we get to meet Ramone (The Office's Cuban-born Oscar Nunez) who portrays the ethnic comedy fixture (or minority Everyman) of this tiny town. He's a server of hors d'ouevres, a salesman at a local shop, a male stripper on his nights off, and a preacher to boot. There's also a possibility, we learn at the end, that his citizenship papers might not be up to par.

All this comic busyness might work a bit more if Ramone's onscreen time were all that amusing. His thong scene on Lady's Night, for example, has the female audience in the film howling. "Why?" you'll ponder. Even though it's supposed to be a terrible act, there's no reason for it to be so contrived. Lameness can be amusing, and often is. (If only Cuban-born Ángel Salazar had been cast. Catch his strip tease and Tina Turner impersonation on The Latin Legends of Comedy DVD.)

In the end, Ramone is basically the only non-white actor with lines in the Alaskan scenes; he's the film's tepid clown. A buffoon of inept masculinity. It's a misstep, especially with the current take on illegals. In fact, would The Proposal have gotten the go-ahead if Tate had been cast as an African or a Hispanic woman? Possibly nowadays, but her profession would certainly have had to be switched according to Catalyst Magazine: "A recent survey . . . confirmed that publishing remains an overwhelmingly white industry."

The other less egregious flaws here are the film's finale (the last two or so minutes) and the outtakes that are interspersed throughout the end credits. They are horrendously unfunny. The cast members are interviewed by a U.S. Immigration officer, and their seemingly ad-libbed responses are spectacularly pedestrian and confusing. A Mexican woman sitting behind me asked her date, "Que pasa?" I wish I had understood her beau's explanation. I needed one.

Otherwise, The Proposal is a delicious revamping of a Doris Day-like vehicle for Bullock (e.g. Pillow Talk). A virginal (or near-virginal), uptight heroine loosens up and finds true love after she discovers the man she has little patience for is her ideal mate.

Bullock, whose films are seldom classics, is such a wholesome, loving presence that if you find yourself alone at night with a box of cold pizza and flat Coca Cola, you'll feel God has blessed you if you turn on the TV and you see her making believe she's dating a man in a coma (While You Were Sleeping) or trying to fake being a beauty queen (Miss Congeniality). But if only Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks were still directing! Bullock's career has started decades too late.

As for Ryan Reynolds, he's certainly given himself a "dynamic body" and you can see why Scarlett Johansson and so many others adore him. But at the moment, there's still something a bit off, a bit lacking. His face, and it's possibly just his eyes, are not a window into his soul -- and that's what makes a great star. Maybe he's too hot now to laugh at. Still, Reynolds holds his end up of the comedy quite well, as does the supporting cast, especially Mary Steenburgen and the great Betty White.

As for the beautiful state of Alaska, I was going to write it has made a great comeback here after its Palin debacle, but luckily I checked the facts first. The Proposal was shot mainly in Massachusetts. Possibly the director, the multitalented Anne Fletcher, didn't want to disrupt anyone's moose hunting.