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The Proposal: Atypical Leads Form a Pleasant Marriage

Early on in The Proposal, a co-worker calls Sandra Bullock “a poisonous bitch.” A shiver went up my spine– no she’s not, you dolt, she’s Sandra Bullock, the charming girl-next-door goofy type. Her castrated co-worker is played by Ryan Reynolds, as the frantic worried Anne Hathaway to her Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (an early race to bring her a coffee seems directly lifted from that film). Another shiver– Ryan Reynolds, the smartmouthed king of the quip, playing the perpetually put-upon upwardly mobile assistant? I was puzzled from jump street. Then, something funny happened. Although the formulaic nature of the film will likely put many off, and its preposterous yet predictable ending lacks that extra wallop that truly fine romcoms have, I found the casting against type played to the film’s advantage, creating some great chemistry between the two leads that carries the film past all of the usual pitfalls of the genre and makes for a diverting time.

Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is the no-nonsense boss at a publishing house. Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) is the lackey, an aspiring editor/writer putting in insane amounts of work in order to capture his dream. Then, news from on high for Margaret: her visa was denied, and she will be deported to her home country, Canada. Brilliant idea that would only work in a romantic comedy: she’s going to marry her assistant, so she can stay in America and keep her job! Andrew reluctantly agrees, until he finds out what’s at stake from an overeager immigration worker (Denis O’Hare)– if this isn’t real, she gets deported permanently and he gets five years in prison. After some added incentive from Margaret (promotion, publication of his book, etc.), they head up to Alaska to tell his family. In Alaska, Andrew is not the lackey assistant, but the son of the Paxton family who runs their entire hometown– “the Alaskan Kennedys,” Margaret aptly notes. From here, we get the usual messages about family, the usual fish-out-of-water hijinks, and the usual wacky grandmother (Betty White).

But something unusual happens. The film manages to engage you, even as you wince at the big gags. An eagle steals Margaret’s phone! They run into each other naked! Betty White chants wearing strange pagan garb around a fire to the earth gods as Sandra Bullock sings a Lil Jon rap song! (No amount of explanation can justify to any rational human how these events transpire.) Casting these bits aside, the moments between Bullock and Reynolds almost convince you– ALMOST– that this could actually happen in real life, and these two people could fall in love under such wacky circumstances. Solid supporting work from Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson as Andrew’s parents also help boost the pedestrian family material, and Oscar Nunez walks away with every scene– or should I say, dances away with every scene, as any fan of The Office will have to pick their jaw up off the floor after watching his erotic strip show.

In the end, the movie stumbles to the finish line. Anne Fletcher shows no real visual flair as the director, and the dialogue only really works due to the relish the fine lead actors give it. Sandra Bullock gives her best performance in years, and her usual delivery of banter seems loosened and freed up by this new character type she’s allowed to play– even the physical comedy seems justified here, not simply placed in because it’s Sandra Bullock. Ryan Reynolds acidly snaps out his one-liners like a young Chevy Chase, but he also has an earnestness and a wide-eyed quality that continues to make me believe he will be the next big movie star. It never reaches the level of even a higher-quality romantic comedy, let alone a Hepburn/Tracy bickerfest– the premise, the ending, the wacky grandmother, and its overall contentment with being a standard romcom hold it down. However, no one told Bullock and Reynolds that the film was supposed to be merely average, and they give The Proposal a kick of charm that makes for a pleasant date night.

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~ by russellhainline on June 22, 2009.

2 Responses to “The Proposal: Atypical Leads Form a Pleasant Marriage”

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