A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Video: The Proposal

I cannot remember which Sandra Bullock film it was that I saw first: While You Were Sleeping or Speed. I'm inclined to think it was Speed but I can't be sure because I do remember watching both films at the cinema and they came out roughly about the same time. Since then, I've enjoyed many of her films especially The Lake House and Miss Congeniality (the first one). There is plenty of appeal in Bullock's girl-next-door-persona and as she proved in Miss Congeniality, she does have great comedic timing. Nevertheless, when I first saw the trailers for The Proposal, I wasn't very impressed... it seemed overly slapstick for my tastes but some friends managed to convince me that it was hilarious and that I should see it.

The Proposal is a strange sort of romantic comedy to my conservative, Christian way of thinking. Certainly it is a romantic comedy to the T and it follows all the rules from beginning to end: Two people who hate each others' guts spend a weekend at his parents' home. They conspire to bring about a marriage of convenience to help further one another's ambitions. Stuck with the other in various confined spaces, they find out that they don't really hate each other that much... Following a series of misadventures, they fall in love and hopefully live happily ever after. All fairly predictable stuff. So predictable that it looks to have plagirized pages from the script for While You Were Sleeping.

One doesn't need to be a French philosopher to see that romantic comedies are in actual fact, modern day fairy tales. It's one of the rare occasions when Hollywood pretends to root for certain traditional values. All this occurs within a fictional narrative in which marriage is elevated to the stature of the holy grail and the couple in question are thrown into a quest to attain the ultimate prize. Of course, Hollywood can't give in lock, stock and barrel so they feel the need to throw in a bit puerile slapstick nudity and jokes about pre-marital sex just so no one misunderstands that this is a chaste 1950s comedy with Doris Day in the lead. That Sandra Bullock plays a catty, ambitious professional takes a bit of swallowing initially but she does it reasonably convincingly. However, underneath that spiteful veneer is a vulnerable orphan just waiting to be adopted by the first willing family.
Romantic comedies are a guilty pleasure for me, I don't mind saying. But the ones that drag in the families as the backup singers, have even greater appeal. It's a wise man or woman who knows that when he/she marries someone, they are marrying into a tribe. I say that with more than a tinge of irony because it is one of the biggest bones of contention for many families.
Like While You Were Sleeping, the protagonist becomes enamoured with her non-love interest through interactions with his family. As she spends more time with "the family", she becomes increasingly guilt-ridden at her duplicity, confesses and then makes her escape from the confused groom at the shamfest wedding day. There's even a subplot that deals with the father-son conflict over the future of the family business to complete the list of parallels to Sleeping.

And then, there's that moment that we all wait for. The penny drops and Boy finally gets his act together and makes his declaration of love. Girl tries to be evasive. He tells her to shut up and stop talking and she, cowed, falls silent. Then comes my favourite line in the entire film... "Marry me... I want to date you." and we all cheer. But why do we cheer? Well, it's the payoff for sitting through 2 hours of wondering when these two will realize what we knew from their first scene together. There's that. But I cheer, because there's something fundamentally upside downish about that statement... in a world that is short on commitment and long on quick romances.
Then comes my second favourite line of the film. The couple kiss and one can hear in the distance, "Yeah... you show her who's boss, Andrew" -- a mischievous shout out from one of their onlooking colleagues. Mischievous or not, it highlights a significant development. Now, their roles are reversed. At the beginning, she's the boss, she calls the shots, intimidates all her co-workers, coerces him into the marriage of convenience. But now, he takes the intitiative, pursues her back to New York, makes a genuine proposal and takes charge of the situation when she expresses her fear of commtiment. He leans over to meet her lips... And so we sigh... all is well with the world.
All in all The Proposal is an odd mixture of notions. A tough, independent publishing exec turns gooey in the end surrendering to the arms of lurve and marriage, without first bringing sex into the equation. Wow... isn't that a bit... erm... traditional?

Well, yes and no. Romantic comedies play to certain female fantasies of finding "true love" and "happily ever after" and in our age there's also the other great fantasy of "being able to have it all". The third fantasy is, in my opinion, the most dangerous one... because the reality is far more exhausting.... and disappointing and devastating. No one can have it all... because being in a relationship means making choices about how one spends one's time, the kind of people one can spend time with and where one can go. Married people know this, parents know this. Life forces us to choose whether we want to or not... and these choices have immediate and long-term consequences.

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