Film Review: The Proposal

Diverting romantic antic about a sham engagement is sparked by the bright chemistry and comic timing of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds.

Sandra Bullock is one of the most likeable and skilled comediennes in movies today, but she hasn’t had a comedy smash hit since the first Miss Congeniality nine years ago. That’s about to change with The Proposal, an engaging, well-crafted lark that proves “high concept” isn’t necessarily a tired tactic.

Bullock is also talented enough to play convincingly against her genial image here (as she also did in the Oscar-winning Crash) as the proverbial boss from hell, Margaret Tate, a hard-driving New York book editor. Peter Chiarelli’s script borrows a page or two from The Devil Wears Prada in the opening scenes, as Margaret’s fearsome reputation literally precedes her among her frantic office staff. Chief among these is her younger, underappreciated assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), who harbors his own ambitions to become an editor.

Unfortunately for Margaret, she’s been so focused on her career, she’s neglected a few legalities and is suddenly informed that she faces deportation to her native Canada. Desperate to keep her job, she impulsively “confesses” that she and Andrew are engaged to be married. Andrew very grudgingly agrees to the charade, on condition that he finally gets that book editor position.

The forced romance coincides with a major family celebration back in Andrew’s hometown of Sitka, Alaska—where, Margaret discovers, the Paxton tribe is a very big, affluent deal. Andrew’s mother Grace (Mary Steenburgen) is warm and welcoming, but his formidable dad Joe (Craig T. Nelson), who’s always resented his son’s rejection of the family business, is skeptical about this older woman in Andrew’s life. And then there’s Annie, the outspoken and mischievous 90-year-old matriarch played with scene-stealing ebullience by TV icon Betty White. Also in the mix is Gertrude (Malin Akerman of Watchmen), the sweet, pretty Alaska girl Andrew abandoned for the big city.

Chiarelli’s script mines all the fish-out-of-water humor of the business-dressed, cell-phone-dependent Margaret’s immersion in the more laid-back and sometimes downright odd culture of picturesque Sitka (actually doubled by towns in Massachusetts). Starting the film as a borderline caricature of an unpleasant workaholic, Bullock convincingly peels back the layers of Margaret, revealing the pain behind her steely façade and the vulnerability that surfaces as she and Andrew get to know each other better amidst this tense masquerade. By midpoint, we’re actually rooting for this erstwhile office gargoyle.

It helps immeasurably that Bullock has tremendous chemistry with Reynolds. The former TV actor and Van Wilder cutup has been getting a lot of work lately, but hasn’t quite broken through as a star. The Proposal should remedy that. He matches Bullock’s comic timing note for note, and conveys all of Andrew’s frustration, exasperation, and growing attraction to Margaret. (His remarkably fit physique is also a box-office plus.) The situations may be formulaic, but the teamwork of the two leads brings them to sparkling life.

Choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses, Step Up) delivers a well-paced, highly attractive production; the whole cast seems to be having a great time. Summer audiences, especially the female segment, should have no hesitation accepting this Proposal.