“The Proposal”: Romantic Comedies Reveal the American Problem(s)

Andrew Greene
3 min readJan 30, 2024
The Proposal (2009): written by Peter Chiarelli and directed by Anne Fletcher

There’s not a more American genre than the romantic comedy. Even the ‘successful’ ones often require myopia, compartmentalizing racist jokes, sexism, toxicity, uncomfortable power dynamics within an oppressive system, in order to root for celebrities to fall for each other under the most manufactured of conceits. We’re really good at this myopia in America because it’s what we do every day.

Here, Betty White’s character is Tlingit (Ryan Reynolds’ family basically owns an Alaskan town, formerly Inuit land). There’s this bewildering OUT OF NOWHERE offensive scene where Betty’s performing a Native chant in the woods. She invites Sandra Bullock to join her, and Sandra, not knowing what to do, starts rapping Lil Jon’s “Get Low,” compounding the appropriation. This is all for laughs (oh my god she said “balls”!) and to humanize Sandy, because [RomCom conceit in 3, 2, 1…] she’s the Evil Boss who is forcing her assistant Ryan Reynolds to marry her to save her from being deported to Canada because she’s been too busy to do her paperwork. Immigration is also a joke to mine here.

That this might not even be the most bewildering scene — “have you heard the one about the eagle, the puppy and the cellphone?” is the setup for that blessed punchline — speaks to the insanity on display here. And I haven’t even mentioned Ramone, played by Oscar Nuñez (The Office), forced to put on an over the top Latino accent that he doesn’t have in real life, while leering at Sandra Bullock.

Credit: NYT

I have a proposal: let’s forever retire the “it was a different time” excuse. All this shit was ‘okay’ in 2009 when The Proposal came out, it was okay for a long time before that, and any change since has been illusory.

Throughout the proceedings, there is no real curiosity about the stakes. While officials sweep nonwhite illegals out of the backgrounds of Sandra’s scenes at Immigration Services, the worst case scenario for her is losing her corporate publishing job and moving back home to Canada (the horror! America is clearly Superior to all countries, but especially our neighbors because they have the audacity to have free healthcare).

While losing her parents early in life is given as the reason/justification for Sandy’s stoicity, working ceaselessly to maneuver corporate America (abusing an overworked assistant along the way) is not part of the problem — indeed, that’s glorified. It’s what it takes in New York, baby. Another question we’re not supposed to ask: do we really want these people in charge of our publishing companies, choosing what books (or movies) are made? Oh. Probably not.

Most insane of all? And this is what is so insidious. In the final act, I turned to my partner and actually said, “They’re kind of cute together.”

I perform all the above mental gymnastics with masochistic glee. I found myself actually rooting for Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock to get married after three days of fake dating because… chemistry? Because they have nice butts? Because romantic comedies are bizarre historical documents, transmissions from colonial captivity that unwittingly highlight (and propagate) the abusive relationship we have with our country and with each other?

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Andrew Greene

Writer, director. Creator of The Naked Man Podcast. Human sampler tray following breadcrumbs, forever hungry. @WanderingGreene on IG, Letterboxd & Twitter