Proposals for marriage are most always heavily orchestrated affairs. Despite considerable planning and meticulous execution, something usually goes awry. But what’s a fumbled word or an impatient fiance-to-be when you have love to fall back on? Margaret (Sandra Bullock) and Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) don’t have that luxury in Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses)-directed The Proposal, and a botched path to the altar means means one must leave the country — to the liberal netherworld of Canada. Theirs is a sham proposal, for sure; but the matter isn’t without a surprising degree of emotion. Like global warming kissing the Alaskan snow, your heart may reluctantly melt a little watching the matrimonial meanderings of Bullock and Reynolds. Solid writing and a genuine, convivial dynamic between the pair turns the otherwise artificial affair into an unusually enjoyable romantic comedy.
You wouldn’t expect that from the film’s start, however. Bullock puts on her best Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep‘s character from The Devil Wears Prada) as Margaret Tate, a high-powered publishing executive who is often referenced in hushed, fearful phrases by her staff as “It’s here” or “The witch is on her broom.” Try as she might, Bullock is certainly no Streep in this role; though Reynolds, as her attractive, coffee-getting assistant, full of hope and grounded in humble, is a bit closer to Anne Hathaway‘s Andy Sachs. The Proposal starts off in a familiar vein, but quickly (and thankfully) takes a unique turn when Margaret requests/demands Andrew marry her so she can stay in the country. To keep an overly confident immigration agent at bay (Denis O’Hare), the pair must travel to Andrew’s hometown in Alaska to visit his grandmother (Betty White) on her birthday.
With tangerine Birkin in tow, Margaret and Andrew head north (way north) to convince relatives of their engagement. Bullock’s city-girl-meets-nature shtick isn’t anything new; of course she has difficulty walking on natural surfaces in 5″ heals; and she obviously over packs for the rustic setting. But when Margaret refuses to get in the water taxi because she “can’t swim” to which Andrew replies, “thus, the boat,” there’s something surprisingly damn funny about it. White’s Tourettes-like behavior has also been seen before, but it never gets old. The Proposal manages to keep your attention, which is an impressive feat considering the formulaic framework. Even when Andrew’s overly hot, hometown ex-girlfriend (Malin Akerman) comes into focus, the film carves a unique path and avoids hitting a wall of cliche.
What truly makes The Proposal an amusing engagement is the interplay between Bullock and Reynolds. The two simply make a great match, and have a naturally funny delivery that will keep you smiling. Or titillated, considering one scene involving a nude collision, or Reynolds describing the dangers of platonic spooning first thing in the morning. But I challenge anyone not to chuckle when Bullock breaks out dancing in awkward white-girl fashion to “Get Low;” and mouths, “till the sweat drop down my balls.” Reynolds’ endearing, humorous response illustrates the distinctive equation of the film that makes it a worthwhile viewing. Even if some of us are allergic to “an entire spectrum of human emotion.”