Most Ryan Reynolds films feature the star wise cracking his way through comedic set-ups or action sequences. The first film I remember him in is one that I would rather forget about, that being Van Wilder (2002), with him playing the title role. It is one of those wild, irreverent, salacious college films. The next was in a supporting role in Blade: Trinity (2004), which, fun fact, was the first Marvel film in which he appeared. In these two films, you have the comedy and the action, but throughout each you have his trademark one-liners that became his modus operandi. When it is not too raunchy, he can usually be pretty clever. The danger of having a type or style is that audiences come to expect it. As long as you can keep getting work as an actor in such a pigeon hole, then more power to you. I am here to tell you, though, that Ryan Reynolds has a little bit more acting range to him than you might think, and I offer The Proposal (2009) as proof. Sure, it is another romantic comedy, but there is more going on with it than usual.
Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is beginning her work day as any workaholic might do: multi-tasking her morning cycle on her stationary bike by reading over a manuscript. She is a lead editor at a major publishing company in New York, and her cold professionalism earns her the fear of her underlings. Her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), makes it to the office just in time with her morning coffee, ready to devote all his energy to her needs as per usual. Such is his dedication that he gives her the one coffee he managed not to spill in his rush to be punctual, the one he intended for himself. During the course of their daily duties, Margaret (who does not like to be called Maggie) is called into Chairman Bergen’s (Michael Nouri) office to discuss a sensitive matter. You see, technically Margaret is a Canadian citizen employed in the United States. A little while previously, she had violated her visa by going out of the country on company business, and now the United States Office of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is threatening to deport her. This news is delivered to her just as Andrew steps in to call her to another important matter. When she sees him, she also sees a solution to her new predicament: they will get married. Margaret announces this news to the surprise of everyone in the room, particularly Andrew. The one person who is not impressed with this turn of events is Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O’Hare), the immigration agent handling Margaret’s case. Upon her and Andrew’s arrival in his office, Mr. Gilbertson impresses upon them the seriousness of defrauding the government by concocting a fake marriage. For Andrew’s part, he agrees to go through it despite the potential of going to jail for a few reasons. First, she promises him the promotion to editor he had been working towards for three years. Secondly, she also will print a manuscript he had turned in to be published. Finally, they will divorce shortly after they tie the knot so that he will not have to be married to somebody with which it is seemingly so difficult to get along. As part of keeping up with their charade, she must accompany him to his family home in Sitka, Alaska, for his grandmother’s, known more familiarly as Gammy (Betty White), 90th birthday. When they arrive following a more arduous than expect journey, they abruptly spring the news on a large gathering of family and friends of their upcoming nuptials. While Andrew’s mom, Grace (Mary Steenburgen), is delighted, Andrew’s dad, Joe (Craig T. Nelson), is less enthused. Joe wants his son to stay in Sitka and take over the small commercial empire he has built in the area. Meanwhile, Margaret is taken around town by Grace and Gammy, who throw the supposed bride-to-be a bachelorette party complete with a rather awkward male stripper named Ramone (Oscar Nuñez), who seems to also have every other job in town as well. Throughout it all, Margaret comes to see what it is like to have a caring family, something she lost when she was sixteen when her parents died. In the process, she begins to warm up to Andrew as well, and suddenly what she once saw as a simple business transaction now appears slimy and selfish to her. Andrew had begun to fall, too, a fact that he did not realize until she is walking down the aisle. It is at that point, however, that she decides that she cannot go through with it, leaving him alone and submitting to Mr. Gilbertson, who had tracked them down to check up on the progress of their relationship. She goes back to New York first before being deported, but Andrew catches up with her as she is packing her office. He then proposes to her once more so that they could date. The end credits show their rather humorous final interview with Mr. Gilbertson.
The way Andrew and Margaret get together in the end in The Proposal is not the way I would draw it up as a practicing Catholic, but then again this is Hollywood. The Church uses big words when talking about getting married to someone like “vocation.” It makes the institution sounds serious, which it is, of course. Interestingly, many do not understand that priests, and male and female members of religious orders, are also technically married. They wear rings on the proper fingers to signify the fact that they are wedded to the Church. Their vows are to serve the Church, just like when a man and a woman exchange in their marriage vows promises to serve one another. There are those out there, including people calling themselves Catholic, that the way to save the priesthood is by letting them marry. After all, as is commonly pointed out, Protestant ministers have wives, or husbands in the case of female preachers, so why not the Catholic analogs? If this makes me a traditionalist then so be it, but I would argue that those who enter the priesthood or religious orders have enough to do without the added responsibilities of raising a nuclear family. The reason I discuss this in conjunction with a movie like this one is to underscore just how little gravity Hollywood seems to lend to the sanctity of marriage. I like the movie, but as the purveyors of American culture, in their products when people are tying the knot it is basically a business deal, to be entered in are exited whenever it is convenient either way. Granted, part of the charm of the film is that Andrew and Margaret come to the realization that their proposal is not how love works. And that is the key word, love. It makes up the heart of why a man and a woman decide to stand before God and where there was once two people, Our Creator now essentially sees one. The same principal applies to our priests and male and female religious. As such, call the end of the film a discernment period.
The Proposal is a sweet little film, though I worry there is a little cultural appropriation with Gammy’s character. She performs some faux Native American dance that I am guessing would be none too flattering to actual native peoples, made worse when Margaret is invited into it and turns it into a Lil’ Jon song. It is but a short interlude, thankfully, and the rest of the film makes for a nice date night movie.