Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal (2009)


(director: Anne Fletcher; screenwriter: Peter Chiarelli; cinematographer: Oliver Stapleton; editor: Priscilla Nedd Friendly; music: Aaron Zigman; cast: Sandra Bullock (Margaret Tate), Ryan Reynolds (Andrew Paxton), Mary Steenburgen (Grace Paxton), Craig T. Nelson (Joe Paxton), Betty White (Grandma Annie), Denis O’Hare (Mr. Gilbertson), Malin Akerman (Gertrude), Oscar Nuñez (Ramone), Aasif Mandvi (Bob Spaulding), Michael Nouri (Chairman Bergen); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: David Hoberman/Todd Lieberman; Touchstone Pictures; 2009)
“It’s a pleasant time killer offering mindless entertainment and appealing stars.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

So what if this old-fashioned romantic-comedy is derivative, predictable, formulaic, hardly believable for a NYC sec and clichéd! It’s a pleasant time killer offering mindless entertainment and appealing stars. The former choreographer, Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”), helms it as one of those Tracy-Hepburn wannabe screwball comedies that’s updated this time around to have the supposed know-it-all lady headed for her comeuppance and the civilized gentleman lover is there to make sure that she once again remembers that family counts the most and that the man is the head of the house. First-time screenwriter Peter Chiarelli keeps the script bouncing along after the gimmicky setup proposal piece with one stolen contrivance after another until it turns into a game for the viewer to recognize the stolen scene’s film.

The 44-year-old Sandra Bullock plays with gusto the self-centered Ms. Margaret Tate, a Type A driven editor-in-chief of a Manhattan book publishing firm who loves her job more than anything else, wears high heels,doesn’t seem to mind that she has no male companionship and that her coworkers refer to her as a witch or “Satan’s mistress.” When Margaret’s big boss (Michael Nouri) tells her she’s being deported to Toronto because she’s a Canadian citizen that failed to follow proper procedures in her application for a work permit, the only sensible solution for the no-nonsense Margaret is to blackmail her ambitious and much younger long-suffering executive assistant Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds, the 32-year-old actor was born in Canada) into marrying her even though we are led to believe they despise each other. She suggests they have a quickie marriage and divorce, while she gets to stay in the USA (I guess she’s not concerned about free health-care) and he gets promoted to be an editor and his book published (I guess he’s just your typical opportunistic aspiring author). The only catch is the diligent meddlesome bureaucrat at the immigration office, Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O’Hare), who believes the marriage is a sham and threatens Andy with jail time and Margaret that she’ll never be allowed back in the USA if he catches them in a lie.

If you’re alright with the nonsense so far, you should be good to go for what follows. For the weekend Andy heads back home to Sitka, Alaska (Massachusetts as a stand-in), to attend the 90th birthday of his kooky Grandma Annie (Betty White). He brings along Margaret, still dressed in high heels (good for a few more cheap laffs), and tells his protective gruff wealthy businessman dad (Craig T. Nelson), disappointed his only son won’t take over the prospering business, and cheerful mom (Mary Steenburgen), that he’s engaged to marry Margaret.

Well, before you can find out if anyone in Sitka has anything on Sarah Palin, you have Andy and Margaret about to tie the knot in the family barn and Mr. Gilbertson flown there (courtesy of Mr. Paxton footing the bill to make sure his son doesn’t do wrong); then the film goes into auto-pilot to paint a pretty picture by-the-numbers about love taking root in the wholesome family setting.

White is around for comic relief and keeps up a constant barrage of gags, none of which are funny except as a whole they seem funny because she’s so ridiculous in her enthusiasm for the gag. Bullock carries the film with her spunky performance and has one great vanity scene where she shows off her middle-aged gorgeous naked bod; while Reynolds never disappoints, he’s around to look good as a decoration and radiate boyish charm.

This is a nimble lightweight film that shamelessly steals from films like The Devil Wears Prada, Green Card, and Meet the Parents and many others. It’s a manipulative crowd pleaser, but one that no one will be unduly harmed by its hokum (a woman director, perhaps, even softens its sexist attitude).