The problem with recent romantic comedies is that they all seem spliced from the same Petri dish. A few variables change slightly: stars (Katherine Heigl or Kate Hudson), settings (wedding in Rhode Island or wedding in New York) and plot details; but the general lackluster style remains unvaried. Because they have a built in audience, genre filmmakers tend to become lazy and complacent, feeling little motivation to develop new tricks while the old ones are still bringing in the bucks. From the summer's newest rom-com, The Proposal, I would have expected the usual hackneyed drivel, however, it's zaniness and clever dialogue serve to distinguish it from the pack. While it doesn't break new ground, (the wedding's set in Alaska this time round!) it's an entertaining enough chic flick that won't have the guys gnashing their teeth in abject misery.
Sandra Bullock plays Margaret Tate, an emotionally distant tyrant obsessed with her job as editor in chief of a prestigious New York City publishing firm. One problem: she's a Canadian with an expired visa and she's about to be deported. In order to solve her immigration difficulties she persuades her hard working but under appreciated assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her with a promise of a promotion. In order to legitimize their marriage in the eyes of U.S. Immigration they attend to a huge family gathering at Andrew's parent's Alaskan homestead. Comedy ensues as the two try and fake a romance while they begin to actually fall in love.
Initially I felt both leads, Bullock in particular, were miscast. There is something so inherently sweet about Bullock's all American features and subtle Virginian accent that casting her as the boss from hell seemed a bit like casting Dorothy as the Wicked Witch of the West. Reynolds also appeared to be out of place-- with his bar star good looks and frat boy personality it was difficult to imagine him as Margaret's eager beaver secretary. However, this "miscasting" actually works in the film's favor. Bullock gives Margaret an underlying sweetness, transforming her from a bitch on wheels (ala Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada) to a woman who has been forced to build a wall around her heart due to tragic circumstances. On the other hand, Reynolds' natural cockiness prevents Andrew from becoming the emasculated sycophant he might have been in the hands of another actor (think Hugh Dancy from February's Confessions of a Shopaholic.)
What really works in The Proposal's favor is its refusal to ever drown in sentimentally -- just as the eyes moisten with the promise of tears, something ridiculous happens to keep the Kleenexes at bay. For example: Andrew and Margaret are taking a ride in a speedboat; Margaret is finally opening up when, in the middle of an emotional monologue, she's suddenly thrown off the boat. It's a funny and irreverent scene -- and most importantly, it prevents the film becoming the cheesy tearjerker that men everywhere dread. The romance between Margaret and Andrew, though perhaps not entirely believable, is well scripted and occasionally their scintillating banter brings to mind the classic screwball comedies. It's not great, but it's enough fun to justify the ticket price, especially for fans of the genre.