Review: The Proposal

"Two Weeks Notice" hit theatres way back in 2002, which means a full seven years have passed since Sandra Bullock's starred in a vehicle built around her that's been at all appealing. And yet, she's such an endearing star and the rare one whose private behavior has yet to diminish her public goodwill, that you can't help but root for her. Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing projects all the goodwill in the world can't change the fact that she needs better management.

Well, maybe she's found some.

On paper, "The Proposal" sounds like more of the same; another concept-driven, fish-out-of-water romantic comedy. And that it is, but thanks to a solid script and winning performances from Bullock and co-star Ryan Reynolds, this coming weekend offers one of the better romantic comedies of the last few years.

"The Proposal" doesn't reinvent the wheel, but built around the expected are a number of entertaining, very well written and performed scenes which create a believable central relationship you root for. The laughs are consistent, and though some are milked from contrived situations, most are earned honestly through realistic reactions from well-developed characters. Beneath it all beats a heart of the best kind; the kind that sneaks up on you in the end as if to say, "Who knew I cared this much?"

Sandra Bullock is Margaret Tate, the editor-in-chief of a high-end, New York publishing firm. She's also a stone cold witch who intimidates and bullies her assistant associate secretary, Andrew (Reynolds), to the point that not once during the three long years he's worked for her has he been able to lower his guard in her presence. She's brittle, demanding and impossible to please even when he accomplishes the impossible, anticipating her every want and need.

Margaret is Canadian and the combination of her arrogance and ambition has suddenly put her on the fast-track to deportation. Out of legal options, the only way to keep her job and stay in the country is to marry a U.S. citizen. Enter Andrew, who pops his head in the door and finds himself the only available male in the room.

Obviously Andrew's doesn't want to marry Margaret, but the reality is that if she's deported her replacement's sure to fire him making the years of hell under her all for nothing. She'll be in Canada and he'll be out on the street starting from scratch. With their fates tied and a suspicious immigration official sniffing around, they have only a few days to get to know each other well enough to pass muster as a married couple. So it's off to Sitka, Alaska, and a weekend with Andrew's family and a whole lot of deception.

First off, I want to warn our entitled Leftist friends used to fifteen years of Hollywood catering to their mean-spiritedness that there are no Sarah Palin jokes. *so sorry* Secondly, Thank God there are no Sarah Palin jokes. Not one. She's never mentioned or even hinted at. Whether this was the product of rare Hollywood restraint or having the film in the can before the election, who knows, but Thank God there are no Sarah Palin jokes because my wife would've walked out and then there's no review.

Another pleasant surprise is how generous the film is in portraying the citizens of Alaska. Audience expectations and those of Margaret are constantly played for laughs as, one by one, tired stereotypes of small town Americans falls by the wayside. In other words, unless you're one of those entitled Leftists, no spell-breaking sucker punches await.

The plot and situations are boilerplate. If you've seen Bullock's 1995 "While You Were Sleeping," you've pretty much seen second and third act of this. But Bullock's charm and some excellent dialogue really make things soar over the seen-it-all-before spots. The biggest revelation, however, is Ryan Reynolds who's absolutely marvelous, perfectly underplaying every moment for maximum laughs. Other than as Chris O'Donnell's replacement, Reynolds has never hit my radar before, but this may well be remembered as his breakout performance.

"Office" fans will recognize Oscar Nunez, who has a few choice scenes as Ramone, Sitka's storekeeper and exotic dancer, Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen aren't given enough to do as Andrew's parents but still manage to make an impression, but in the film's more tiresome scenes - even the great Betty White can't add much to the played-out earthy old grandmother character.

As a quick aside, I want to mention an impressive and marvelously crafted subplot involving Andrew's former girlfriend Gertrude, who's played by Malin Akerman. Without a moment of melodrama or word of exposition, screenwriter Peter Chiarelli creates a very real and poignant choice for Andrew. There's even a moment when he clearly has this choice to make but never once is it played the way you expect or have seen so many times before. And there are at least three beautifully crafted, memorable scenes; poignant, funny, heartfelt...

Chiarelli had to work within the necessary conventions of a marketable genre, but still a real talent shines through.


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