Directed by Anne Fletcher. Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Betty White, Denis O'Hare, Malin Akerman, Oscar Nuñez, Aasif Mandvi. (2009, PG-13, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., June 19, 2009
Only very rarely do romantic comedies reinvent the wheel, which is why whole decades passed between Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Realistically, we know what we're getting into when we queue up for the latest studio romantic comedy – something which will surely cling to a formula so firmly fixed that any halfway movie-literate dope could graph its course from meet-cute to ever-after. At best, then, we can hope for an inspired flourish, a curveball or two, but even those eventually get swallowed into the machine (hence the codification of the ethnic, comic-relief bit player, the sassy grandparent, and the embarrassingly public avowal of love, all featured in The Proposal). When you strip all that away, what you're left with is the likability of the leads. The Proposal counts two deeply charismatic performers at the helm, although, combined, they share the chemistry of second cousins. Bullock, in her first romantic comedy since 2002's Two Weeks Notice, plays an all-work-and-no-play Manhattan literary editor named Margaret Tate. When the Canadian-born Margaret is threatened with deportation (and, by extension, professional ruin), she bullies her long-suffering assistant Andrew (Reynolds) into agreeing to a marriage of convenience, the reasoning being that if her career goes down the drain, so goes his, too. With a suspicious agent from Immigration Services breathing down their newly engaged necks, Andrew and Margaret head to Andrew's native Alaska to break the news to his family, including his 90-year-old grandmother (White, ever the Golden Girl, cheerfully straddling the ground between the dotty and the profane). The script by first-time writer Pete Chiarelli could have used a stronger point of view – the split perspective ends up rendering both characters' inner lives somewhat remote – and it almost entirely ignores its would-be lovers' gap in age and power (Bullock is 12 years Reynolds' senior, and her character is his workplace superior). I suppose one should be grateful that Chiarelli didn't waste his time on cougar wisecracks, but still – there was risky, fertile ground there to be explored in the gender politics of the pairing. (What we do get, in a snippet of nearly nude physical comedy, is confirmation that Bullock is still in possession of both irresistible comic timing and a slammin' body.) Fletcher demonstrates, as with her second film, 27 Dresses, that she can put together a funny, able romantic comedy that is a cut above, but no more. Still, those leads are awfully likable, the Massachusetts-for-Alaska landscape rather picturesque, and if The Proposal doesn't reinvent the wheel, merrily we roll along nonetheless.