In the last few months I have seen two romantic comedies at the cinema- 'The Proposal' and 'The Ugly Truth'. One of these is about a Canadian editor who proposes marriage to her assistant in order to be able to stay and work in America, one is about a tv producer who is forced to hire a misogynistic presenter whom she instantly dislikes in order to get ratings. One of these movies horrified me with its attitude toward women, one of them pleasantly surprised me, even if it had some cringe-worthy moments. Which is which? Spoilers ahead...
'The Proposal' starts with a self-confident editor, a terrible boss with her life (and those of her subordinates) firmly under her control, being threatened with deportation because she hasn't fulfilled her visa requirements. She then gets her overworked and overlooked assistant to pretend to be her fiance, and agree to marry her, so that she can stay. While she uses her power over him to do this, from then on he has something on her and the tables are turned. He then takes every opportunity to humiliate her- because he is so angry at being coerced into doing this thing he does not agree with. They go to spend the weekend with his family in Alaska.
It gets very weird from here on in, because this is the part where they are meant to fall in love (and of course the audience knows this). But how does this happen? She embarrasses herself in front of his family, falls into the water from a boat and needs to be rescued (since she can't swim), opens up and tells him about herself and in generally is made more vulnerable and likable. As for him... he reveals himself to be a fairly moody character, doesn't talk to anyone much and certainly doesn't respond when she opens up about her past (I will just mention in passing that there seem to be at least 4 nights in this 'weekend').
Skip forward to the point when she is found out and returns to her office to pack for Canada with him following after realising he loves her. He marches into the office, in front of all their co-workers, insists that she marries him and kisses her- at which point a co-worker yells out 'show her who's boss'. Net result of movie: there were fun moments, but after walking out we were increasingly outraged that 1) there was no effective romantic development and 2) the lead female character was basically humiliated and torn down until the male character establised himself as the one in charge. Left with a bad taste in our mouths...
'The Ugly Truth' was a bit of a worry, the male character is introduced as a real misogynist, he's pretty horrible, and so I wondered where the movie was going and what point it wanted to make. But as it increased it improved, and I think it had a major advantage in having better chemistry and romantic development between the two leads- the control-freak tv producer and the obnoxious presenter. He coaches her on how to get the perfect guy, the hot-doctor-next-door, by being everything a guy wants. Which some people find offensive, I will quote:
"Men are not particularly well represented in The Ugly Truth, either, but the onus on changing yourself to be desirable is placed squarely at the feet of women. If Abby wants a boyfriend, she is instructed not to criticise eligible men, to laugh at their jokes - funny or not - and to never talk about her problems because he will not really care."- Emma Young, SMH, 24/08/09
Which would be fair, but that's not the take-home message. She breaks up with the perfect guy because she feels she has not been herself, and she wants a more honest relationship. The presenter falls in love with her and has to confront his demons about love and relationships. They both humiliate themselves on national tv by declaring their true feelings for another (in a hot air balloon no less, in one of the worst CGI scenes of modern times). So I was pleasantly surprised, since I had been worried about what this movie might be trying to say, but in the end both characters came from a more equal setting, both grew, and they met each other somewhere in the middle- both stepping down somewhat from their positions. Moral of the story something fairly Hollywood, along the lines of 'you can't plan love' and 'you have to find someone who loves you for who you are.'
It's not so bad, Emma Young. She even gets to keep her career (and most of her dignity) at the end. Battle of the RomComs: The Ugly Truth:1, The Proposal: 0.