Knight at the Movies Archives
A big budget comedy and a low budget indie both rely on familiarity to bring in the laughs
In the almost 15 years since Sandra Bullock’s movie stardom was solidified in the 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping she
has made almost two dozen movies, the bulk of them romantic comedies that have reinforced the qualities that first endeared her
to audiences. She is innately intelligent – plucky, hard working, klutzy, sweet natured and warm, given to kvetching, self-deprecation
or brooding (depending on whether the movie is a bright rom-com or a bittersweet dramedy). She can be testy, bossy and downright
mean but can’t fool the audience for long that the nastiness is anything other than a cover up. She is our pretty girl next door with
the long, dark hair. Bullock, a latter day June Allyson or Doris Day, above all radiates a quality that movie audiences treasure
almost more than anything else in their movie stars: niceness.
All of these qualities are on display in the role of Margaret Tate, the starring part that Bullock, who executive produced, has picked
out for herself in The Proposal, her first movie in two years. The movie, duly enjoyable, joins a long list of Bullock’s previous
audience pleasing romance-centric films. There is nothing remotely fresh or original in the material, in Bullock’s performance or that
of her dreamboat but innocuous leading man Ryan Reynolds, or her expert support cast. But I suspect that audiences who adored
Bullock in Two Weeks Notice, the Miss Congeniality pictures, The Lake House, et al will fall hard for her once again and the movie, too.
Margaret Tate is a Manhattan based book editor who in the words of her gay in all but sexual orientation assistant Andrew Paxton
(Reynolds) is “allergic to pine nuts and a whole range of human emotions.” This human Cruella De Vil has the same effect on her
staff that Streep’s Miranda Priestly had on hers in The Devil Wears Prada. But with Bullock we know it’s a sham. Here, almost from
the moment the plot is revealed Margaret’s frost begins to thaw. Told by her bosses that she is about to be deported to her native
Canada, losing her powerful job and status in the process, quick thinking Margaret announces that she and Andrew are engaged.
After visiting an inquisitive, doubting Department of Immigration officer (played by out actor Denis O’Hare), Andrew agrees to the
sham marriage because he wants to be a book editor and get his book published and with the deal in place, the couple head to his
home in tiny Sitka, Alaska for his grandmother Annie’s (Betty White) 90th birthday celebration to announce their engagement.
Andrew, we learn, comes from money and that his parents (Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen) fit the classic stereotype of many
a gay man: stern, distant, disapproving father and doting mom. Grandma Annie is embarrassingly and “hilariously” frank (White’s
character is as tart as the one played by the late Estelle Getty, her former “Golden Girls” co-star). Many zingers and familiar though
audience pleasing sequences later (including a long one in which we get to see both stars nearly naked—hubba hubba), the plot puts
Bullock right where the viewers want her: in the arms of her hunky, now love struck co-star.
Though my movie going companion pointed out that there is a 12 year difference between Bullock and Reynolds (who is likeable and
good looking but not particularly memorable – except for that unbelievable body of his) The Proposal doesn’t come off as a trendy
“cougar” comedy. Mainly because Bullock’s age hasn’t any impact on her “nice” movie star identity. Unlike, say the luckless Meg
Ryan and Melanie Griffith, both stuck forever with confining “ditzy blonde” identities that have grown shrill with age and repetition and
have forced them to seek out the surgeon’s knife to stay as young as viewers want them, Bullock’s defining “girl next door” quality
has a proven long shelf life (look how long audiences kept Doris Day on top). It’s something that will help keep the march of time
from fizzling out Bullock’s star for many years to come. When it comes to movie stars, nice girls do finish last.
Capers, which is the debut of writer-director Julian M. Kheel, is another comedy filled with stereotypical but welcome characters.
Though it’s about as far from the big budget, high star wattage of The Proposal as it’s probably possible to get, nevertheless, this
scruffy little comedy has its share of familiar laughs and some genuinely funny, eccentric moments. Three divergent bands of petty
Brooklyn neighborhood criminals – described by the racist, Mob connected pawn broker (played by Phyllis Somerville who played
Jackie Earle Haley’s mother in Little Children) as the Moolies (a gangsta, his moll and accountant), the Sputniks (a Russian actress
and her brother), and the Amateurs (two guys who seem inspired by characters from Dog Day Afternoon and Mean Streets and their
accomplices which include a gay ninja and a tall, menacing guy) – plan to break into the pawn shop and steal the harridan’s safe.
Each of the gangs are filmed in styles reminiscent of the movies from which they’ve sprung: the Moolies in hot, bright colors ala
Spike Lee and rap videos, the Sputniks in bleak black and white “neo-realist” fashion and the Amateurs ala vintage 70s
“grindhouse” pictures (complete with scratchy negative). The alternate styles, along with some cute animation sequences that spell
out the plot scored with 60s spy music flair by David Poe, perk up what might otherwise have been a very long haul as does an
enthusiastic cast. Many of the faces are familiar but lack name recognition and Kheel manages to give each of the actors a
memorable moment or line (Danny Masterson caressing a cashmere sweater before he steals it, Aysan Celik as the Russian actress
heavily sighing over a guy’s dwelling, “Small shit apartment crushes my soul,” etc.).
Heist comedies always lend themselves to a raft of wacky characters and fun, offbeat plot machinations (Welcome to Collinwood,
Who's Minding the Mint?, Small Time Crooks, Gambit, Topkapi, et al) which just about always endears them to me and on that score,
Capers can honorably take its place alongside its more high profile brethren. The film screens one night only, Saturday, June 20 at
6pm at the Gene Siskel Film Center as part of the week-long TBS “Just For Laughs” comedy festival. Director Kheel will participate in
an audience discussion after the screening.
6-17-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.