“The Proposal” starts out as a really great screwball comedy, with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds trading fast-paced zingers with enough snap and zest to make one recall “His Girl Friday.” Then, inevitably, it contracts a case of the sappies and gets all serious and gooey, and lines up all the clichés of the romantic comedy, and hits them like tripwires.
Bullock plays Margaret Tate, the boss from hell, who clocks around her New York publishing office in high heels that herald doom on the march. Indeed, the cubicle worker drones send text alerts that pop up on every computer when she’s on the move, warning “the witch is on her broom,” so they can duck for cover.
It would be the duty of Margaret’s assistant, Andy Paxton, to inform her about nasty messages like that, if he weren’t the one sending them. After three years of mindless toadying, he’s desperate to be promoted to book editor.
So desperate, in fact, that when Margaret curtly informs him that they’re going to be married, he goes along with it. It seems she’s a Canadian with immigration problems, and unless she gets hitched, and soon, she loses her job and her home. Andy extracts a promise to be promoted, so both of them look upon it as a mutually beneficial business arrangement.
Until, that is, they fly up to visit Andy’s parents (Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen) in remote Sitka, Alaska, to play up the charade for an immigration investigator who smells fraud. Of course, while basking in the glow of Andy’s good-hearted family — not to mention forced to share a bedroom — they suddenly realize that they are, in fact, in love.
Now, it is a long-standing Hollywood tradition to make us believe that a man and woman can fall in love in a matter of days. But frankly, Margaret and Andy are so much more entertaining when they hate each other, that when they start to exchange doe-eyed stares, it’s a comedown.
Especially with so much delicious repartee flying, courtesy of rookie screenwriter Peter Chiarelli. I loved the moment when Margaret first sees Andy’s parents’ palatial home, and accuses him of being “an Alaskan Kennedy.” Another funny bit is when they’re boning up on personal information a couple should know about each other, and she quizzes him what her allergies are, and Andy immediately comes back with: “Pine nuts — and the full spectrum of human emotion.”
Director Anne Fletcher also does a wonderful job of staging a delightfully daffy scene where they catch each other in the buff. With so many movies using naked men for comedic purposes lately, it’s nice to see Bullock get in on the nude (well, nude-ish) escapades.
There’s plenty more funny stuff going on, including the town’s lone Latino who moonlights as its only male stripper, and Betty White as Andy’s rambunctious grandmother, who knits fertility quilts and performs Indian chants in the woods.
If only “The Proposal” had stuck to its excellent comedy instincts, and shunted the lovey stuff aside, it would have audiences begging to say yes.