The Proposal (2009) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 108 min.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Betty White, Malin Akerman, Oscar Nunez, Denis O'Hare
Cameo: Aasif Mandvi, Michael Nouri
Director: Anne Fletcher
Screenplay: Peter Chiarelli
A clichéd clunker of a romantic comedy, almost made fun enough for fans of the genre thanks to the skilled performers. At its core plotting, The Proposal offers little surprises, as so often happens with romantic comedy premises where two people hate each other at the beginning of the film are pitted together, only to realize by the end how much they really like one another now that they've gotten acquainted. Fun in spots, eventually the tedium of the storyline wears thin, culminating with an unnecessarily heavier romantic ending that the previous 90 minutes warrants.
Bullock (The Lake House, Miss Congeniality 2) stars as Margaret Tate, the tough-as-nails editor ("Satan's mistress" is one not-too-affectionate term used to describe her) of a major book publishing company in Manhattan. Reynolds (Definitely Maybe, Smokin Aces) plays her long-suffering assistant, Andrew Paxton, who has been doing a thankless job above and beyond the call of duty in the hope that he will eventually see his own work published by the company, if he plays his cards right. Things get complicated for both of them when Margaret, a Canadian, finds her visa to work in the United States expired, which means she will be heading back to the Great White North and losing her distinguished career with the company. She immediately applies threats to the ambitions Andrew to agree that they are engaged in order to stay in the country and keep her job, and actually go through with it in short order, promising a quickie divorce. But they find they have to follow through with it, and soon, so the odd couple whoosh off to Alaska to meet Andrew's family and announce the nuptials, and the frost begins to thaw in the Alaskan air.
The best thing that one can say about The Proposal is that it could have been worse. Watching Bullock and Reynolds go through their motions can still generate a laugh or two, even when the action is uninspired. For instance, Bullock's character is warned not to keep the door open or the small family dog will get out and be carried away by an eagle. You could easily guess that this is just what is going to happen, as the large bird swoops down and carried the ball of fluff in the air in its talons. But Bullock's skill at the romantic genre comes into play, and she plays the scene with just the right silly instinct to generate laughs, as she uses the opportunity to add an extra level of selfishness to her character that sees her more concerned with her cell phone conversation than the life of a beloved pet.
Bullock's fans will be happy to see her back doing what she does best, after the lesser appealing Premonition. Though playing against her natural girl-next-door persona, Bullock does a fine job being the unlikeable, conniving and ambitious boss, and though she seems like a mismatch for the younger and more robust Reynolds to pair up with, they do share a good comedic chemistry that mostly covers over the weaknesses in the rapidly developing romantic notions that come about in just a couple of days. The fact that both actors have physiques that the opposite sex enjoy seeing nearly naked does help us understand why they would also begin to find each other attractive when they've never given it a thought in years of seeing each other business attire. Bullock may be 12 years older, but after seeing her run around after a shower semi-nude, few men his age would deny her sex appeal.
Yet, though it is amusing in spots and fun to watch the leads and supporting players give it their comedic all, the script, written by first-time scribe Peter Chiarelli, is still second hand goods dressed up with an A-list cast. Anne Fletcher, who was able to capitalize on infusing just enough energy from her performers in 27 Dresses to become a modest genre favorite, keeps it mostly together, but fails to deliver when the film needs it during the character turnarounds toward the end. All we have left are a handful of funny setups hanging off of a plot that few will care about. The final few scenes, whereby the two betrothed characters must come to terms with whether they really want to go through with the plans, ring hollow in their emotional content, while the possibility of a happy ending is uncomfortable due to the fact that it stretches far beyond believability that happiness and love might ever really be fostered even given what we've seen in the course of the film.
The Proposal is only recommended to the rom-com faithful, especially those who consider themselves big fans of the stars. Those who could take them or leave them have the right to cold feet, and anyone averse to the notion of sitting through sitcom premises and cliché-ridden should steer clear at all costs. This is a film that clearly exists only to deliver crowd-pleasing moments (especially involving unbelievably wacky turns by Betty White (Bringing Down the House) and Oscar Nunez ("The Office") at the cost of the story and characters. It succeeds some of the time, but not enough to justify the length, and certainly not enough to have us care enough about anyone in the film to hope they achieve a state of bliss in the end. It keeps moving almost enough for you to not realize how empty a proposal this really is, but not quite enough to sell you on it.
©2009 Vince Leo