The Proposal

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Posted June 18, 2009 in Film

Perversely, it’s because Ryan Reynolds can do everything that he’s still only on the cusp of being a big star. His career has skipped around from action to slapstick to dramedy, picking up genre fans who never pool together to form a fan club. Even his face is undermining: he’s too handsome for oddballs, too guy-next-door for pin-ups. There’s something indefinite about how his small lips and brown eyes and shoulders come together. He can dial up or down his charisma at will. So maybe it’s been his choice to keep his brand value cooled to lukewarm. But after seeing him this year as a never-was rock star (Adventureland), a trash-talking mercenary (Wolverine) and an ambitious literary assistant (The Proposal), it’s time for audience to take notice of the man who charmed everyone from Alanis Morissette to Scarlett Johansson.

 

Reynolds plays Andrew Paxton, a New York newbie who’s spent three years toiling under stern editrix Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock). Margaret (not Maggie) planned to claw her way to the top of her book publishing house, but she’s handicapped by her Canadian citizenship. With her office rivals and the government colluding to throw her out of Manhattan, Bullock’s last hope is sexual harassment: blackmailing Reynolds into marrying her by threatening him with a ruined career and promising if he plays nice, she’ll promote him and publish his first novel.

 

Pete Chiarelli’s script knows it’s as formula as mashed bananas, but it gives us the courtesy of letting the characters argue that they’re doing something ridiculous before charging along anyway. Before you can say “federal fraud,” the pair is on a plane to Alaska to announce their engagement to Andrew’s family, which includes mom Mary Steenburgen, dad Craig T. Nelson and grandma Betty White, as well as the sweet blonde (Malin Ackerman) who turned down Andrew’s first and only sincere marriage proposal.

 

Thanks to casting and chemistry, this is the first great romantic comedy of the summer. Reynolds’ assistant makes it zing; he’s thrilled to have his demanding boss under his ring finger and safely unleashed three years of resentment. The power games have the bite of screwball classics—the fun is in the under-the-breath venom they spit while pretending to be a happy couple. When the script tries to get wacky—say, by having Betty White whoop through a tribal dance—the whole thing deflates, only to immediately perk up the next time Reynolds makes a wry aside. Director Anne Fletcher is kinder to Bullock than she was to Katherine Heigl in 27 Dresses, but the softness that makes Bullock eventually likable comes from within the actress, whose character is given little to go on than being an orphan in Louboutins. At heart, the film is as much about forming a family as it is about seeing Bullock in a silky nightie, which makes this thin delight unexpectedly rich.


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