I love watching Sandra Bullock, who is enjoyable even in the lamest of films. And sadly, there are so many lame movies starring Bullock, and so few that I would enjoy watching more than once -- Infamous is a rare exception. After I saw Speed, I said that I thought Bullock could be this generation's Carole Lombard, but unfortunately the actress has not yet found her Howard Hawks or Ernst Lubitsch. The Proposal is yet another Bullock-starring formulaic romantic comedy with little to offer except sparkling performances, and not just from Bullock.
Margaret Tate (Bullock) is the terror of the Manhattan publishing office where she's editor-in-chief, and even her charming assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) is scared of her. Her Achilles heel turns out to be that she's ... Canadian, and she's about to be deported for a year due to some visa problems. So Margaret hurriedly declares that she's engaged to Andrew, who's American. You don't have to have seen Green Card to guess the rest of the story. The "happy couple" meets with skepticism from INS, so to prove their love, they travel to Andrew's family home in small-town Alaska to celebrate his Granny Annie's (Betty White) 90th birthday. Since Bullock is starring and it's a romantic comedy, we know her character will be humbled and tumbled about, away from her native habitat of New York. If only we could vanquish all our power-crazed bosses this way ...
Admittedly, I am so pleased to see Bullock -- or any actress, for that matter -- playing a romantic comedy heroine who isn't "adorably" klutzy or awkward that I'm almost willing to love The Proposal on that strength alone. However, I don't care for the stereotype of the Evil Female Witch-Boss either, especially when you know a comeuppance is forthcoming. At least this character doesn't need an adorable child to become acceptably feminine.
In addition, I don't like humiliation comedy, which is in abundance during the first half of The Proposal. I don't laugh when a character is taken down a peg by being blackmailed onto her knees in public (as in the above photo), or when a male character is embarrassed about being portrayed as a "sensitive guy" around his manly friends. I feel sorry for them, even if they're fictional. I never could watch even "America's Funniest Home Videos" because I always pitied the stumbling bride or clumsy child. I realize I'm in the minority -- a lot of audience members nearly laughed themselves sick over one character being mean to another, or being harassed by Mother Nature -- so use your judgment here about your own sense of humor.
The Proposal does have some inspired comic moments -- I love the waves of instant messaging that flow through the publishing office, signaling that Margaret is stalking the floor or spreading gossip. And being a geek, one bit involving a sound in an Internet cafe made me giggle. Many of the gags, however, were old and tired when Granny Annie was a mere slip of a girl.
Despite the tired and sometimes mean-spirited jokes, Bullock is still delightful to watch. She knows how to portray this type of character and her transformation, and hits every note perfectly. Reynolds doesn't have a strongly written character to work with, but he's charming enough to pull it off anyway. For the most part, the supporting cast has little to do: Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson are typically parental, Malin Akerman smiles a lot as the cute hometown ex-flame, Michael Nouri sits behind a desk. Oscar Nunez (The Office) and Betty White provide the film's broadest comedy, but I feel like we got a little too much of their forcefully, fitfully wacky humor, which dilutes their genuinely funny moments.
Director Anne Fletcher, who is also a choreographer, may be best known for directing Step Up. The Proposal is as conventional and flat as Step Up, but without the kinetic musical/dance numbers that propelled the dance film into something energetic and fun. The script by Pete Chiarelli (this is his first writing credit) offers little that is fresh or new for romantic comedy fans ... but perhaps watching Sandra Bullock in her element will be enough for many of her fans. Me, I'm still waiting for her to find a film that better matches her talents.