What almost saves THE PROPOSAL from itself is a pair of performances by Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds that have a bold and bracing bite of snarkiness to them. Alas, the formulaic nature of the script requires that they both warm up to each other and in the process, while their characters find true love, of course, the audience is left with a plot so predictable, that people around me in the preview audience were yelling out, both correctly and mirthlessly, what was going to happen next.
Bullock is Margaret Tate, a high-powered, career-centric book editor who is known around her office as Satan’s mistress. Indeed, her arrival sends the minions scurrying for cover. Reynolds is Andrew Paxton, is her long-suffering executive assistant, who has catered to her every whim, and sucked up her insufferable attitude in order to make a career for himself in publishing. He loathes her. She doesn’t think of him as a human being and they’re about to get engaged. But it’s strictly business.
It seems that Margaret is a Canadian and what with her non-stop schedule and her indifference to rules that she doesn’t make, her work visa has expired and she is about to be deported for one year. Rather than accept losing her job over this, she decides to marry Andrew, who being a sharp cookie as well as a hunk, strikes a Faustian deal when an immigration ssuspects that this is a match made in less than heaven. He will marry her and she will promote him to editor. He also makes her get down on bended knee to ask him, an not inconsiderable feat considering her tight skirt and stiletto heels.
In the type of plot twist that only these breezy little exercises is cuteness and sentimentality can conjure, convincing that annoying INS officer involves a trip to Alaska in order to break the news of the couple’s engagement to Andrew’s family. A remote part of Alaksa, that requires Margaret to find a whole new way to teeter on her three-inch heels, and Andrew to have to smile big and pretend that she is the love of his life.
All the requisite tropes are here. This is not a subtle film, but Bullock and Reynolds sneer, snarl, and otherwise snipe at each other with a refined panache and wondrous timing. When the inevitable moment arrives wherein they accidentally see each other naked, there is nothing coy about the nudity, nor their excruciating distaste. Their public bickering, rife with veiled insults is less satisfying, but not without a baser charm.
Before sinking hopelessly into a morass of clichés, Bullock demonstrates her adept way with physical comedy as well, whether fleeing a swooping eagle, negotiating the unfamiliar territory of a strange bed in a state of less than wakefulness, or facing off against a small dog that strikes terror in Margaret’s heart armed only with a blow dryer, she catches that unsettling sensation of absolute assurance gone suddenly, surprisingly awry. Reynold’s job is to react and a fine job he makes of it. It’s the deadpan delivery done with a smile that is as brittle as Margaret’s personality.
All good things come to an end, and here, it’s when Betty White, as Andrew’s 90-year-old grandmother, dons a tribal gear and dances around a campfire in a simulacrum of a Native American ritual. Until then, and blessedly later, she returns to her trademark and well-executed ditz, this time out with a tart tongue. It’s downhill from there with few bright spots amid the turmoil of father-son impasses and an ex-girlfriend of Andrew’s who may mean more to him than he realized. Most of those bright spots are courtesy of Oscar Nunez as the ubiquitous Ramone, a jack-of-all-trades, many of them contradictory, who shows up without warning, but burbling with a blithe delight in whatever he is doing.
It makes THE PROPOSAL an uneven film and kills any fun the first set-up might have provided.