One of the surprise hits of last year was the ‘romantic comedy’ The Proposal which starred Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, directed by Anne Fletcher. The film is funny in parts, amusing in others and predictable in every way possible. It’s silly fun in a sitcom sort of way, and overall I enjoyed it. It’s not the best work of either lead actor, but it’s just enough to get by. However, there was something that annoyed me. There were a few scenes played for laughs that didn’t quite work. One was seen in the trailer where happenstance requires a cheap gag in the buff. It’s not as funny as it should be because that scene was not only spoiled in the trailer, but it all but spells it out where the two characters Margret and Andrew are headed. But I want to focus on the next two items, because they are joined at the hip. Upon arriving in Alaska, Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is handed a warm blanket by Gammy (Betty White), Andrew’s 90 year old grandmother, to cover up with in the cold night. It has a nickname- “the baby maker” since every bride to be has been proven to have gotten a bun in the oven shortly after using the blanket. Then later, Margret and Andrew (Reynolds), who are respectfully sleeping apart, are frantic to get into bed together when members of the family knock at the door. The implication is that if they are not seen in bed together then the family will think something is ‘wrong’ with the couple. To add to the drama, the family wants an impromptu wedding, because the entire clan is there and Grandma is in her last years. If I didn’t know any better, someone expected a shotgun wedding, considering that the family expected a new engaged couple to behave a certain way. Since the premise of the film is that the engagement itself is a sham (the plan being to get married and then divorced some short time later), I had to speculate. What if the story changed and it wasn’t a put on? Would the couple still be expected to be shacked up, would they think anything of it? What this scene effectively does is paint the family in a whole new light, one that cannot be overlooked. Either they would think it strange that their son wasn’t having sex with his fiancée before marriage, or Andrew and Margaret simply think that they would think that.

As far as rom-coms go, The Proposal is one of the best made in the past five years, without having to go too far into the gutter. I’ll also give the film some props for not having the guys as as a bunch of dopes. Eccentric is one thing; dopes are another matter.

So what is wrong with most rom-coms, you ask? You’ll be sorry you asked.

In recent years, I have found this genre to be the most testing of my patience. I have also found that most of them have Jennifer Garner or Kate Hudson in the cast, with Matthew McConaughey somewhere within. I’m still not exactly sure if it is the actresses themselves or the film roles they choose. I am pretty sure McConaughey’s career is starting to look worse than Owen Wilson’s. There are only so many times an actor can play a variation of the same character they been playing for a little over fifteen years until it gets stale. Wilson gets in a good film now and then, McConaughey keeps doing trash. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t got a clue. Maybe McConaughey needs a Marley and Me kind of a film. Or better yet, films that reminded the masses how good of an actor he was when he first showed up in films such as A Time To Kill and Lone Star. But Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past?

I am convinced that there is a fine line in rom-coms. If it’s supposed to be a comedy, it should be funny. If there’s some romance, it should have something heartfelt. 2009’s Pastwas simply neither, but chock full of sleaze. Yes, it is possible that a character such as Connor Mead can learn from the error of his ways. It is also unlikely that a character would fall for a womanizing dope such as this, even if he would up saving his brother’s wedding at the end. But that wasn’t the only problem here. I can understand one, maybe even two characters being a bit shallow. I cannot understand:

    All but one of the groomsmen looking up to Connor Mead for his womanizing ways. The one who doesn’t is “odd”, and does not fit in;

    The bridesmaids (not counting Jenny) are all too eager to gossip, attempt to sleep with Connor, and even have an indirect hand at attempting to break up the wedding of Connor’s brother Paul (Breckin Meyer) and Sarah through such actions. It is also implied that they have been manipulative in their teen years, keeping Connor and Jenny apart before he became a self absorbed jerk.

That may seem like a harsh criticism, but an audience has to have characters that they can relate to, not to sneer and despise. There needs to be a place to hang your hat on. When nearly every character is self-centered and into themselves, it is a harder task to invest in the film. When the film also takes on a mean spirit in its core, run away, fast.

Do I find films like this to be morally offensive? Yes. But it cuts worse than that; I’m not exactly sure why Hollywood wants to define romantic comedies as something depressing or in poor taste (Catch & Release) and think filmgoers will actually go for that sort of thing. Everyone loved The Notebook a few years back it seems. Not a huge surprise. It had a story and characters we cared about. No distasteful jokes, no silly one liners. Romantic dramas can work. Romantic comedies can work. I still can watch one of my favorite movies, Say Anything a dozen times over. Or one of Sandra Bullock’s pictures, While You Were Sleeping. See? It can be done.

What I’m about to say is going to be somewhat controversial to some, so bear with me. I’m not advocating a push for ‘morality’ on any pictures in the future. There have been many successful comedies which have slimy characters- but such characters are usually a foil that get a comeuppance. It is an entire different ballgame when there are characters which are slimy and “we are supposed” to “find them attractive” and identify with them.