Proposal, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 06/19/09 05:26:22

"Wait... how did this tired premise become funny?"
3 stars (Just Average)

So here’s the thing: I like “The Proposal.” Absurd, I know. The movie is a checklist of bad sitcom plots and generic romcom characters. But it’s also funny and charming and cute, its stars elevating the bland screenplay well above all expectations. I laughed - at times, very loudly - and for a comedy, laughter trumps all.

The story, scripted by first-timer Peter Chiarelli, is one of those romantic comedies crafted by rote: Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock) is a successful editor at a top publishing company (only magazines and ad agencies hire more romcom heroines), where her bitchy antics leave her underlings calling her “the wicked witch” in behind-the-back instant messages. Her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), suffers the most, sacrificing his own personal life and aspirations to obey Margaret’s every whim.

When Margaret learns her work visa is being revoked and she’s about to get deported back to Canada (which turns out to be the least convincing plot point of the whole damn thing; Margaret is about as Canadian as I am Italian, and there’s zero effort to make her seem otherwise), she improvises a lie: she’s marrying Andrew, and that means she can stay in the U.S., right? And to make it look legit to the skeptical immigration official (Denis O’Hare) on her tail, the duo must fly back to Andrew’s home town in Alaska to visit the family as they celebrate grandma’s birthday.

That’s a long, long, long, long way to go for a simple “pretend we’re engaged” yarn. The same trip could’ve been taken about twenty simpler ways; as is, it’s a big ball of excess clutter to have Andrew blackmailed into the faux marriage yet still have it be his family they’re visiting. (Margaret’s family died years ago, in a cheap sidestep of logic that allows Chiarelli to only have to invent one set of relatives for the movie.) There’s little reason for anything that happens to actually happen, and yet it does because the plot demands it. It’s that kind of movie.

It’s also the kind of movie that concocts limp conflict in the final act just so we can have the obligatory race to the airport and the big speech in front of everybody. (Of course the two fall in love during their ruse. You were expecting something less obvious?) There’s also an obligatory years-old argument with Andrew’s dad (Craig T. Nelson) that’s bound to get resolved by the finale. Meanwhile, we’re tossed some mid-movie seriousness that’s supposed to explain how Andrew can go from loathing to loving Margaret within a mere 48 hours. Oh, and Betty White plays the grandma, and you just know she’s all potty-mouthed and kooky and full of cheeky one-liners.

So you see why my approval of this movie is absurd. But, as I said at the start, here’s the thing: it’s funny. Very funny in spots, actually. Reynolds brings his trademark snark, all snappy with the wry sarcasm; he’s so good with wordplay and fed-up sighs and wringing laughs from the simplest dialogue that he’s much welcome here, where everything is so predictable, it takes the cast to bring it to life. Bullock, meanwhile, hasn’t been this charming and sharp since, what, the Clinton administration?

The duo have terrific chemistry, both verbally and physically. The film is sprinkled with little slapstick moments that work because the stars play off each other so well, and then we get shots of banter that, while nothing classic, offer a give-and-take that’s clever and appealing. Both offer a good dose of sex appeal, too, which goes miles in a movie like this.

And that’s enough to kick things off in the right direction. The rest of the cast sprinkles in enough lightweight fun to keep things moving. There’s White, of course, who always delivers funny work even when typecast in roles as stale as this, and there’s also Oscar Nuñez (best known from “The Office”), hamming it up as Alaska’s creepiest male stripper. (It’s better than it sounds, especially when the film wisely uses Nuñez’s mere appearance as a running gag.)

Director Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”) doesn’t try to push the material beyond simple romcom trappings, and that leaves the film being dumber than we’d like it. But she’s also smart enough to simply get out of the way and let Bullock and Reynolds be funny on their own terms. “The Proposal” offers nothing remotely new, and it takes zero risks, but it also knows how to deliver big laughs. This is comfortable, safe, and surprisingly very funny romantic comedy.

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