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The Proposal

  • Directed by Anne Fletcher
  • Written by Pete Chiarelli
  • Starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds
  • Classification: PG

Onscreen chemistry is an elusive notion but you know it when you see it, and Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds definitely have it in The Proposal . Sharing a similar quality of strait-laced silliness with a knack for snappy banter, the two stars invigorate this breezy trifle of a romantic comedy. More old than new, definitely borrowed and just a little blue with some strategic nudity for comic effect, The Proposal may be well-trod territory, but worth a walk down the movie aisle.

Bullock, who hasn't had a blockbuster hit since 2002's Two Weeks Notice , plays Margaret Tate, an aggressive Canadian editor (a welcome reversal of national stereotype) in a Manhattan publishing firm. Heartless, ruthless and apparently sexless, she's known as "It" by her terrorized employees. Her milquetoast personal assistant Andrew is played by Ryan Reynolds (a real-life Canadian) who hangs on to the job hoping that one day his novel will be accepted for publication.

The poor drudge, who fetches coffee, interrupts meetings with fake calls, and sheepishly endures her sarcasm, finally faces a whole new level of insult. Margaret is pulled into her boss's office and told to settle her outstanding immigration issues promptly or she'll be heading back to Toronto. Impulsively, she announces that she and Andrew are in love and are planning to marry. If he doesn't come across, she warns him, he's out of a job along with her.

Inspired by his new spousal status, the worm begins to turn. Andrew recognizes he finally has some leverage and blackmails her back for a promotion. When it comes to the upcoming immigration test, he knows everything about her ("allergies to pine nuts and the entire range of human emotions") but she's vague about his life. As part of a crash course on his background to fool a zealous immigration official (Denis O'Hare), Margaret agrees to accompany him back to his hometown of Sitka, Alaska, for a family celebration. Thus the comedy conflates two romcom standbys: The enemies who are forced to become allies and the one about the urban diva cast loose in the sticks.

Anne Fletcher ( 27 Dresses ) moves things along well. Yes, Bullock's character wears four-inch heels and too-tight skirts but there are some surprises - including an inspired bit of slapstick involving a dog, an eagle and a cellphone.

In place of the expected hicks and oddballs, Andrew's family are liberal thinkers who dwell in an ocean-side mansion. They include his doting mother (Mary Steenbergen), his domineering father (Craig T. Nelson), who wants Andrew to return to run the family business, providing Andrew with a tender spot that melts Margaret's heart. Also, he looks good with his shirt off.

Predictably, as Margaret reveals her softer side and Andrew shows a caustic edge that makes him more attractive, the couple move from faking love to the real thing. They're a sharp, funny pair, and - right up until the last scene, some of Reynolds's lines are so well delivered, you'd think he wrote them himself.

Be warned: The Proposal is very much a case of for better and for worse. The stars' charm barely sustains the movie through its lax last third. Andrew's nosy, big-hearted grandmother, Betty White, only 87 but playing 90, gets some crowd-pleasing scenes, but is saddled with a questionable back story about her "Indian" roots. Popping up in all kinds of contexts is the town's mysterious Hispanic immigrant ( The Office 's Oscar Nunez) in scenes that are more odd than funny. There's also a complete loose end in the character of Gertrude (Malin Akerman, who also appeared in Fletcher's 27 Dresses ) as the sweet hometown girl that Andrew left behind to make it in the big city.

The problem isn't that The Proposal is filled with clichés - what kind of romantic comedy would it be without them? - but like the perfect wedding, it's a question of getting the clichés exactly right.