Directed by: Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses)
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Malin Akerman
The first thing I noted about The Proposal was that it wasn’t nearly as funny as Sandra Bullock’s last film, the thriller Premonition (2007). The next thing I noticed was that the set-up for the movie—by definition already predictable—turned out to be the quintessence of tedium. This occurred to me when I realized that less than an hour had passed as I reached the “Surely, this must be nearly over” mark and checked my phone for the time.
At this point, you may well be wondering why I’ve been moved to give the movie a slightly grudging three stars. Well, it was at about this same point, when maximum tedium had been reached, that the combination of Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds actually started to work for me. I can’t say the movie actually got better in any significant way; it was still plodding and predictable, utterly by-the-numbers and lacking in anything even marginally resembling style. But as soon as Bullock’s and Reynolds’ characters started thawing toward each other, both they and the film transformed from being painful and false to being pleasantly human.
As anyone who’s been to the movies lately or within range of a television probably knows, The Proposal is a cardboard cut-out of a movie. Sandra Bullock plays what Bella and Samuel Spewack described in their Hollywood satire, Boy Meets Girl, as “a high-handed rich bitch”—with the accent on the latter. She’s a powerful editor—hated and feared by everyone who works under her (think ersatz Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada)—who finds her position jeopardized because her high-handedness has gotten her in dutch with U.S. immigration and she’s about to be deported to her native Canada. What to do? Of course! Blackmail her assistant, Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), into marrying her. The fact that they cordially detest each other may be a slight drawback, but it’s also the stuff of which romantic comedies are made.
In theory, this is a reasonable enough—if a bit shy of inspired—idea. In practice, in the hands of director Anne Fletcher and first-time screenwriter Peter Chiarelli, it’s more like a laundry list of genre contrivances being carefully adhered to—with occasional outbursts of strained physical comedy. Bullock is great at physical comedy (see her on a murderous assault with a stapler in Two Weeks Notice), but here it’s like most things in the movie: tired and perfunctory.
A large part of the problem is that the film nails how unpleasant she is early on and then beats you over the head with it for nearly 50 minutes, by which time it seems that marrying Dr. Goebbels might be a better bet. There are simply not enough flashes of anything even remotely like humanity to suggest that there’s more there than meets the eye. Worse, most of the comedy isn’t terribly funny. In fact, a lot of it isn’t funny at all. Some people have been known to find this a drawback in a comedy. It appears not to have deterred Fletcher and Chiarelli. More’s the pity, since their idea of goosing things appears to have extended no further than dragging in Betty White to do her patented outrageous old lady schtick, and topping it all off with TV’s Oscar Nunez (The Office) for a spectacularly unfunny and nonsensical running gag.
The saving grace in all this finally comes down to Bullock and Reynolds in the second half of the movie. Do they make it worthwhile? No, not really. What they make it is tolerable. I can’t say that qualifies as a ringing endorsement, but it at least means the film probably won’t do you a permanent injury should you come into contact with it. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language.