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A Comedy With Errors, Or: 'The Proposal' Rejected

Sitka Is For Lovers: Hard-as-nails Margaret (Sandra Bullock) takes a weekend adventure to the land of the midnight sun to meet the family of her unwilling fiance (Ryan Reynolds). Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Pictures, Inc. hide caption

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Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Pictures, Inc.

Sitka Is For Lovers: Hard-as-nails Margaret (Sandra Bullock) takes a weekend adventure to the land of the midnight sun to meet the family of her unwilling fiance (Ryan Reynolds).

Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Pictures, Inc.

The Proposal

  • Director: Anne Fletcher
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 107 minutes

Rated PG-13: Sexual content, nudity and language

With: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Betty White

Watch Clips

'We're Getting Married'

'Going To Sitka'

'Baby Maker'

The Deported: Reynolds makes a fine onscreen foil for Bullock, but The Proposal sags too much for them to hold up. Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc. hide caption

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Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc.

The Deported: Reynolds makes a fine onscreen foil for Bullock, but The Proposal sags too much for them to hold up.

Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc.

Nuts, Dear: Betty White (right, with Bullock) makes a game appearance as the inevitable wacky grandmother. Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc. hide caption

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Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc.

Nuts, Dear: Betty White (right, with Bullock) makes a game appearance as the inevitable wacky grandmother.

Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Picutes, Inc.

Is it post-feminism, or the reality that most chick flicks are still made by men, or what? What accounts for the fact that today's studio movies heap more fear and loathing on career women than they ever did in the 1940s?

Ever since Glenn Close boiled those bunnies for Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction, it's been open season on the working woman in Hollywood. I can't say I approve — but I have to admit that in the case of The Proposal, which stars Sandra Bullock as a hard-boiled New York publishing executive hoisted by her own Machiavellian petard, the trend brings a welcome touch of evil to yet another example of the soggy pap that passes for romantic comedy these days.

Which is not to say that The Proposal, directed with more verve than flair by Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses), breaks new ground — or even that it follows through on its table-turning screwball premise. Which is that faced with deportation, Bullock's Margaret — a Canadian citizen — bullies her long-suffering assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) into a fake marriage.

In an effort to persuade a skeptical immigration official (the excellent Denis O'Hare) that theirs is a love match, the pair decamps to Sitka, Alaska, to bring the happy news to Andrew's family.

Big mistake, for them and for the movie's integrity. For as long as it stays put in New York, The Proposal makes a pretty sharp comedy of executive-suite manners. It's astutely written, by former producer Peter Chiarelli, who's no Ben Hecht but who clearly understands the quiet malice of corporate power politics.

Bullock is both a better actress and a better comedian than the snobbier critics have given her credit for being. Having built a career playing mostly good girls that a mass female audience can identify with, she stretches nicely here into the realm of the hard-boiled, her expressive features a carved mask of petrified neurosis. She never hogs the action, but plays off Reynolds — a fine comic actor with a serious edge, and a fellow whose strategic under-delivery of his lines gives the movie a much-needed undertow of simmering resentment.

That resentment gets enticingly complicated by pent-up sexual tension, and though Reynolds looks pretty fetching with his shirt off, we should be grateful that the actor's eyes are set a touch too close together, his ears a little too jugged, his face a mite too pasty to let him rest easy as a run-of-the-mill romantic lead. Instead, he becomes something far more interesting here: a slave who, with one cunning flip, turns the tables on his conniving mistress and toys with her as she has with him.

All too soon, however, goodwill heaves into view. Early trauma elbows its way in to explain Margaret's hard-ass ways, prompting her to gaze wistfully into the middle distance and murmur that she always wanted a family. Ditching the suit and the cool urban sheen, Andrew steps forth as a flannel-shirted but studly sensitive male, conveniently equipped with a slightly eccentric but warm and encouragingly rich clan — who, not counting a fondness for male strippers and some brief oedipal father-son tension, carry on lives of simple authenticity far from the madding crowd.

At which point The Proposal starts to sag like a pricked balloon. The devil may wear the usual Prada, but she's no Anna Wintour: Under the benign influence of Wholesome Family Life, Margaret's severely pulled-back ponytail works its way down to settle alluringly over her shoulders, and she sheds the power suit for champagne cami-jammies — the uniform of bedroom farce, far behind which the inevitable soft-focus clinch cannot be.

Give or take some entertaining physical comedy from The Office's Oscar Nunez, who may be said to be playing most of the supporting roles, the rest is a negligible bore, with every twist lurching into view a mile away. And in the colossal-waste column, mark down the name of the great Betty White, here reduced to mugging away gamely as the wacky old grandma with a shrewd eye for humbug.

Worst of all is the way The Proposal collapses in a heap of self-betrayal at the end. Did I mention that Andrew is also a gifted writer? No?

Then you'll never guess who ends up back at the office, packing her things in cardboard boxes — not just because she's no longer a bitch on wheels, but because she's not the really creative one in the family. Grrrr.