Movie News & Reviews

'Proposal' fights off its worst excesses for something believable

My thirteen wives and four husbands are always shocked when we hearabout how hard marriage is for some people.

What's so tricky about filling out a couple pages of shipping andbilling information? People do it on every day. I used topack things up for a living, so I understand being worried about thecontents being damaged in transit, but in my experience your spousearrives intact 95% of the time. If he arrives dinged up or a littledead, just hang onto the packing materials and they should exchangehim for you.

But movies make it look like finding one person so compatible you canshare a home and a life with her is a task of Sisyphean patience andHerculean effort. Whatever. One girl doesn't work out, that's whywe've got landfills. You got a few bucks and love is much easier tofind than you'd think watching romantic comedies like TheProposal.

Editor Sandra Bullock is so good at her job she can get reclusiveauthors to appear on Oprah, but her dedication to her work has run herafoul of immigration laws. Faced with deportation to Canada and theloss of her job, she blackmails assistant Ryan Reynolds into agreeingto marry her so she can stay in the country.

Federal immigration officer Denis O'Hare isn't buying it. During hisinterrogation, Bullock and Reynolds are forced to plan to Alaska tomeet Reynolds' family, share the happy news, and try not to kill eachother in the meantime.

The problem with most romantic comedies is they don't seem to exist inthe real world, but in a cuter, aggravating, and frivolous one wherepsychotic behavior is considered free-spirited instead of jailable andevery single person is so emotionally disturbed they can't tell thedifference between love and hate. Yet rather than this worldwidemental illness resulting in dead puppy love notes and basements fullof skinned nurses who wouldn't return their calls, it translates to afluffy cuddle-world where malicious fighting and mutual enmity pose noobstacle to true love.

Initially, The Proposal belongs to this alternate bunnylanduniverse, indulging in exaggerated characterizations of Bullock as aheartless ice-bitch and in silly, obvious direction which is basicallysaying "Hello, audience! I think very little of your brainpower."

Then it's on to the grand comedy of faking their felonious marriage instunning, romantic Alaska, surrounded by small-town folk and theirgenuine, goodhearted ways. You don't need to be told where it goesfrom there: your corpse is discovered slumped over a theater seat, thestraw from your $6 Coke jammed through both sides of your neck.

But then something unexpected happens. Director Anne Fletcher dropsthe exaggeration and the forced charm. Bullock and Reynolds' prankson each other become believable. Writer Pete Chiarelli gives hischaracters some real emotion and through that they start to gain somedignity. The Proposal stops being a generic, eye-rollingrom-com and becomes something honest.

It's still got some foolishness in the periphery, notably a dopeyethnic guy and the grandmother whose unquenchable lust for life can'thelp but bring everyone together. (A trope that seriously needs todie: 90-year-old women don't dance around the woods chanting to theEarth Mother, they sit in chairs complaining about how cold it is evenafter you set their afghan on fire.)

There's some sap, too, and the usual heartfelt speeches carry fewsurprises. But The Proposal fights off its worst excesses infavor of something simpler, better, and just about believable.

Grade: B-