When Margaret Tate snaps her fingers or barks an order, people jump. As editor in chief of a prominent New York City publishing house, she rules her domain with a sharp tongue and an iron fist. And no one knows that better than her young, underappreciated assistant, Andrew Paxton.
Andrew bears up under her abuse—while fetching lattes and genuflecting on cue, of course—in the hope that he might one day work his way up to an editor position of his own. That is, if his dragon lady boss doesn't fire him first for doing something silly like ... breathing.
But Andrew's lot is about to change—for better or for worse.
Margaret's ice-queen reign is unexpectedly challenged when she's called in by the suits upstairs and told that because of a few neglected legalities, the U.S. immigration department plans to deport Margaret to her native Canada. Calculating quickly, the cornered boss lady seeks an impromptu means of escape. When Margaret spies Andrew, she impulsively blurts out that they're engaged to be married.
After picking his jaw up off the floor, Andrew grudgingly agrees to the fraudulent nuptials in exchange for an editor job. Margaret sneers at his terms but agrees to them anyway just to get the whole mess behind her.
In reality, though, the whole mess is just beginning. Not only does Andrew have to convince the U.S. government that he's actually in love with his boss, he also must prove it to an even more discriminating set of authorities: his family.
Andrew is a genuinely nice guy whose judgment slips when he agrees to the romantic facade with Margaret. Nevertheless, he tries hard to keep his relationship with his boss as professional as possible, which includes separate sleeping arrangements. Elsewhere, Andrew's desire to turn his back on the family business results in clashes between him and his father, Joe. But Dad obviously loves his son and apologizes after those flare-ups.
[Spoiler Warning] For her part, Margaret is at first determined to deceive the immigration authorities. But when she gets to know Andrew and his family, she chooses to admit the truth and faces the requisite penalties. She also tells Andrew that his family's love is a very valuable thing. When the faux romance between the pair begins to turn into the real thing, Margaret tells Andrew that their situation is quite complicated. Andrew admits that she's right, but chooses to keep pursuing a real relationship with her anyway.
Andrew's Grandma Annie is an eccentric woman whose spiritual references meld bits of Christianity, pagan beliefs and her native Alaskan heritage. She repeatedly gives thanks to "the universe" for positive events. And Margaret later finds her dancing and chanting ritualistically around a campfire in an Indian blanket. Annie says, "Come see how I give thanks to Mother Earth." She also asks Mother Earth to make Margaret's loins "abundantly fertile."
In a long, intricately choreographed scene, Margaret and Andrew run into each other while naked. They slowly fall to the floor in a tangle of limbs with their chests pressed close together. The pair is completely nude, and the camera captures all but the most sensitive regions of their bodies. Before that unexpected collision, Margaret's breasts are barely covered by a strategically placed arm and hand. The same is true for a glove that obscures her groin. In essence, the filmmakers show us everything, while not showing quite everything.
Another extremely sex-oriented moment is similarly shocking, though for different reasons. When the Paxton women take Margaret to a bar for a bachelorette party, she's brought up onto the stage for a close-up view of "the only exotic dancer on the island." The resulting male striptease is played for laughs. The dancer remains clad in a tiny pair of formfitting briefs, but the camera zooms in—and I mean zooms in—as he thrusts and gyrates in Margaret's face.
In addition to those major PG-13 boundary-pushers, the film is peppered with sexual innuendo that includes multiple crude references to the male anatomy and discussions of Margaret's breasts. Several women wear low-cut and formfitting outfits. Margaret and Andrew share several passionate kisses. Margaret does a hip-thrusting dance.
Margaret, a professed non-swimmer, falls out of a speeding boat and flounders in the water until Andrew rescues her. There are also some comic-oriented pratfalls.
Crude or Profane Language
Three s-words and almost 20 other profanities, including "a--," "h---," "b--ch" and "d--n." God's name is misused 20 or so times. Jesus' name is abused twice.
Drug and Alcohol Content
At a party, characters consume wine, beer, etc. Andrew's father drinks alcohol in other scenes. A bar full of women repeatedly toss back drinks during Margaret's bachelorette party.
Other Negative Elements
Tempers flair between father and son a few times. In one case, Joe demeans Andrew's morals and his manhood by saying, "I never figured you for a guy who slept his way to the middle." When an eagle snatches Margaret's phone, she offers up a small puppy to the bird as a trade. During the credits, Margaret and Andrew joke about her habit of passing gas in bed. When Andrew puts his hand on Margaret's backside, she threatens to emasculate him in his sleep.
In interview after interview, director Anne Fletcher has said that she wanted to inject The Proposal with the same kind of charm found in the classic comedies from the '30s and '40s. And there are a few brief moments in this Devil Wears Prada/Northern Exposure mash-up that have that kind of flavor, evoking memories of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant's crisp banter. A sentimental conclusion singing the praises of family and commitment further echoes those old classics' feel-good vibe.
But let's not get too carried away. The rest of the movie, which is to say the other 95 percent or so, climbs into a convertible Packard and leaves family-friendly funny in the dust with its thumb out. That's because Fletcher and her team have taken their contrived but potentially charming premise and tarted it up with layers of "contemporary" comedy rouge. Bare bodies. A bizarre Mother Earth ritual. A wince-inducing bachelorette party striptease.
The latter scene was so embarrassingly repugnant that it was one of the few times in my PG-13 moviegoing experience I've found myself hoping someone would leap up and yell "Fire!" or maybe, "I've gone blind!" just for an excuse to clear the theater. I feared my retinas might be permanently scarred.
Despite the directors' aspirations, then, the end result is tired, offensive and wholly disappointing. In fact, if Hepburn and Grant had seen this, they surely would have wagged their heads in disgust. Or at least turned their backs and sauntered arm-in-arm to the latest Pixar flick.
It goes without saying—but I'll say it anyway—we're not in the 1930s anymore.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Sandra Bullock as Margaret Tate; Ryan Reynolds as Andrew Paxton; Mary Steenburgen as Grace Paxton; Craig T. Nelson as Joe Paxton; Betty White as Grandma Annie
June 19, 2009
October 13, 2009