One of the problems with romantic comedies is the dogged death grip they maintain on genre conventions. When’s the last time you saw a romantic comedy that avoided the “meet cute,” the “big lie” and the “climactic race to the airport for last-minute reconciliation”? Sometimes it makes me wonder if When Harry Met Sally ... is the only romantic comedy to ever actually get things right. Apparently, somebody broke that particular mold back in 1989, because we’ve been stuck with Maid in Manhattan/Made of Honor crapola ever since.
The Proposal certainly seems awfully familiar—right down to its casting of perky, perennial girl-next-door Sandra Bullock as our female lead. Viewers will be forgiven for thinking, “Wait, haven’t I seen this movie before?” A patent cut-and-paste of Green Card, Two Weeks Notice and at least a hundred sitcom episodes, The Proposal is composed entirely of recycled elements. In fact, the film is so flippant about cannibalizing its forebearers, it almost comes across as ballsy. Almost.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a scary, dragon-lady book editor who spends her days terrorizing her poor, overworked assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds). Everybody hates Ms. Tate, apparently because she’s efficient and good at her job. (Honestly, she doesn’t seem all that evil—probably because we know it’s sweetheart Sandy under that power suit.) One day, Immigration comes knocking at the New York publishing firm where Margaret works. Seems she’s actually Canadian and has been “too busy” to renew her work visa. (Why she didn’t pile that task onto her do-it-all assistant isn’t really explained.) So here’s our wacky situation: The only way Maggie can stay in America is to get married. Who’s she gonna marry? Convenient doormat Andrew, of course! The guy who hates her most in this world. Gosh, how ever will this crazy, fake marriage of convenience turn out? If you guessed, “They end up falling in love with each other for real,” then you’ve been to this dance before.
The bulk of The Proposal takes place up in backwoods Alaska where Margaret has been dragged in order to meet Andrew’s family and cram for the inevitable “How well do you know your so-called spouse?” INS quiz. So, on top of all the overused romcom elements, we also get a healthy dose of fish-out-of-water comedy. Toss in Betty White as the sassy, brutally honest granny and you’ve got a film that leaves no cliché unturned. The climax even features Andrew racing to the airport for a last-minute reconciliation. Really.
Call it a small miracle, then, that The Proposal actually has a fair number of bright spots. Bullock is probably miscast as the bitchy boss, but she knows her way around romcom territory. Once we get out of New York and Margaret’s ice queen persona starts to melt, the film hums along well enough. Reynolds actually shows some acumen for subtle straight-man comedy and makes a credible-enough foil for Bullock. Their hate/hate/love relationship makes for some funny moments. Director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) has got the rhythm down. She knows when to pluck the heartstrings and when to make with the mildly randy comedy. Without a doubt, the story (courtesy of first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli) is contrived, derivative and completely predictable, but the overall package works up a decent amount of charm. That’s all most fans of romantic comedies ask for, really: a little charm, a little Sandra Bullock and somebody in a wedding dress. The Proposal gives it to you.