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“The Proposal” just isn’t all that engaging

“The Proposal” just isn’t all that engaging

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On paper, “The Proposal” really looks like it should work.

The Proposal Poster
Copyright 2009 Touchstone Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I mean, this film stars Sandra Bullock. The girl we fell in love when she had to keep that bus zooming along at 50 MPH in “Speed.” Who made us cry when she finally told the truth at the altar in “While You Were Sleeping.” Who showed her skill for slapstick in “Miss Congeniality.”

And as Sandra's co-star, you’ve got Ryan Reynolds. That talented up-and-comer who’s been stealing scenes for several years now. Effortlessly walking away with movies like ““Blade - Trinity” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

So when Disney put these two charming performers in the hands of Anne Fletcher (who directed Katherine Heigl’s 2008 romantic comedy, “27 Dresses”), that seemed to guarantee box office gold. The only thing that was missing at this point was a really clever script.

The Proposal Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock hug Betty White
Copyright 2009 Touchstone Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Unfortunately -- judging by the way “The Proposal” turned out -- Mouse House execs never did actually find that solid screenplay. Which is why Sandra, Ryan and Anne had to make do with Peter Chiarelli’s underwritten effort. Which tries – and fails – to update the screwball comedy conventions of the 1930s for 2009.

And Bullock and Reynolds ... They try their damnedest to make Chiarelli’s unlikely premise work. Playing against type, Sandra is Margaret Tate, a frosty Canadian editor who bulldozes everyone who works underneath her at a New York publishing house. And these folks include Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), Margaret’s long-suffering assistant who dreams of one day becoming a published author.

So when Tate runs afoul of U.S. Immigration and suddenly finds herself facing deportation, thinking on her feet, Margaret announces her engagement to Andrew. Later in her office, this icy editor works out a deal with her stunned assistant. If Paxton agrees to stay married to Tate long enough to clear up all of her visa-related problems, Margaret will then promote Andrew to editor as well as get his novel published.

Sandra Bullock proposes to Ryan Reynolds in The Proposal
Copyright 2009 Touchstone Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved

While Tate’s superiors at the publishing house are thrilled with this all-too-convenient solution, there’s still one thing that stands between Margaret and her visa. And that’s Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O’Hare) from the Department of Immigration. Who doesn’t believe for a second that Tate & Paxton are actually a couple.

So let's review: We have two unlikable characters in an highly unlikely situation. So was does Chiarelli do in Act II? He sends Margaret & Andrew off to Alaska to attend Grandma Annie (Betty White)’s 90th birthday celebration. And when these two arrive in Sitka, Tate learns that Paxton comes from Kennedy-like wealth. More importantly, that her assistant has an old girlfriend (Malin Akerman) who still pines for Andrew as well as a father (Craig T. Nelson) who’s pressuring him to come back home & take over the family business.

The screenwriter continues to pile on the complications (i.e. An eagle snatches Margaret’s cell phone, Tate is forced by Grandma Annie to take part in a ritualistic dance around a ceremonial fire, a frisky puppy prevents the now-naked editor from exiting a bathroom), all in an effort to add additional laughs and tension to the proceedings. But as “The Proposal” lurches into Act III, all you can think about is how hard Bullock and Reynolds have to work in order to put this flimsy material over.

Sandra Bullock running with a dog in The Proposal
Copyright 2009 Touchstone Pictures, Inc. All Rights Reserved

To their credit, Sandra & Ryan almost – almost – pull it off. They pile on the charm, using every acting trick in the book to try & make “The Proposal” seem far lighter & funnier than it actually is. But when Bullock – just as she did in “While You Were Sleeping” – winds up standing at the altar, making yet another tearful confession, what’s supposed to be this really touching moment in the movie comes across as … Well, derivative and sad.

Again, on paper, this Sandra Bullock / Ryan Reynolds / Anne Fletcher film really looks like it should work. It’s only when you see this new Touchstone Pictures release up on the big screen that you realize that -- without a strong script that actually delivers on the promise of this screwball premise -- “The Proposal” just isn’t all that engaging.

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  • I saw a sneak preview of this last Saturday, really not expecting much. I agree in part with your review. However, I do think Bullock and Reynolds make the majority of the running time work. Both are charming and hilarious: I watched an interview featuring the two on Moviefone, and it's likely there was a lot of improvisation going on on-set which would accredit the film's funniest bits. The script did leave a lot to be desired. It's too bad Sandra never found the perfect romantic comedy vehicle that Julia Roberts landed two or three times. This is passable entertainment but she's deserving of something that could truly stick and be considered a classic.

  • I totally agree, it was really lacking. I think it made Alaska seem really cool. For a Canadian, though, she was pretty clueless about living somewhere like Alaska.

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