Screenwriter: Peter Chiarelli
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen
Running time: 106 mins
It's a decent proposition on paper - a high concept romcom with Sandra Bullock's megabitch boss bullying her submissive assistant Ryan Reynolds into a marriage of convenience. Yet it's hard not to feel rather jilted throughout the formulaic first half, which is dragged down by some serious miscasting and predictable plotting. The movie only develops the confidence to stride purposefully down the aisle once the lead characters emerge from their defensive workplace shells, allowing Bullock and Reynolds to show off their joint appeal. A crowdpleasing finale and a couple of amusing supporting performances also go a long way to atoning for the movie's teething problems.
The main problem lies in the difficulty of buying Bullock as Margaret Tate - the pushy, hard-nosed boss from hell. Her employees trade instant messages warning of 'the witch's arrival and tremble in her presence, painting her out to be like Meryl Streep's monstrous Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. But the actress simply exudes too much likeability despite her constant stern expression and is given little scope to show the character's devilish qualities. The movie needs to show us, not tell us, what Margaret is like.
Similarly, not enough time is spent developing the dynamic and power relations between Margaret and her underling Andrew (Reynolds). The narrative feels terribly rushed, with the desperation to quickly reach the plot's main selling point. This lies in Margaret finding out that she will lose her treasured job as a book editor and be deported to Canada unless she acquires US citizenship, which she opts to do by ordering Andrew to marry her. Canny immigration official Mr Gilbertson (the highly watchable Denis O'Hare ) scents blood, bolstered by an anonymous tip off, and seeks to expose the impending marriage as a lie and thus kick Margaret out of the country.
In order to prepare for a crucial examination about their relationship by Gilbertson, the faux couple decide to visit Andrew's family in remote Alaska as part of the sham. This jaunt kickstarts the hilarity, as Margaret begins to emerge from her hard shell and display her soft, compassionate centre under the scrutiny of Andrew's dad (Craig T. Nelson), mother (Mary Steenburgen) and grandma (former Golden Girl Betty White). This allows Bullock to display the attributes that first propelled her to stardom - vulnerability, quirky humour, a disarming nature and an aptitude for slapstick. Two standout scenes, one involving a random eagle attack on Margaret's cellphone and the other involving an unexpected naked entanglement with Andrew, both demonstrate her superb comic timing.
Ryan Reynolds, tipped for megastardom by many, does little more than put on a bewildered expression that's eerily reminiscent of George 'Dubya' Bush for much of the movie, but he too comes into his own when the action relocates to Alaska. Increasingly assertive towards Margaret, it's fun and interesting to watch as Andrew gradually strips down his boss (psychologically speaking) and turns the tables on her. It doesn't take a genius to work out the likelihood of the pair genuinely hitting it off, which we want them to, but the advent of Andrew's childhood sweetheart and a suspected heart attack within the family ensure that the outcome is uncertain. Fans of the superb American version of The Office will also lap up recurring appearances by Oscar Nunez as the ubiquitous Ramone - vicar by day, stripper by night.
The Proposal is not a marriage made in heaven by any means, but the eventual charm of the leads and a gag-packed second half manage to salvage the movie from inauspicious beginnings. Only the most misanthropic of cinemagoers won't be left smiling by the time the end credits roll.
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