Sandra Bullock stars as a hard-as-nails publishing editor who terrorizes every employee under her, particularly her longsuffering assistant (Ryan Reynolds), who eventually must pretend to be her fiancée in order to prevent her from being deported back to Canada. To pull off this ruse, the couple must pretend to be madly in love during a weekend trip back home to Alaska, where the parents of Reynolds’s character, played by Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen, have to believe their clean-cut son and his visibly distant, testy boss are head over heels.
This is standard sitcom stuff, with jokes you can see coming minutes away and one-liners delivered with pauses long enough to insert a laugh track. Yet the movie works better than it should because of the performances. Bullock hasn’t been this good in a comedy since the first Miss Congeniality and, while her character is never as terrifying as Meryl Streep’s in The Devil Wears Prada, she underplays it perfectly and is suitably nasty. Likewise, Reynolds tones down his usually smarmy, wink ’n smirk act and is recognizably human, even vulnerable.
Despite some amusing bits, the film contains what I refer to as the Irredeemable Moment—a scene so bad, the movie can never recover. Where Spider-Man 3 had that musical number, The Proposal has a sequence in the woods in which Bullock encounters Betty White, playing her standard Wacky Grandma role. For reasons too cringe-inducing to divulge, White dons a Native American headdress and does a painfully unfunny bonfire dance that she coerces Bullock into joining. The movie never bounces back and has a third act that uses every tired romantic comedy cliché in the book.
What makes a movie like Sleepless in Seattle or My Best Friend’s Wedding special is the attention to character and a plot that teases expectations. Here we get a climax Xeroxed from dozens, maybe thousands of other, better screenplays. You can probably read my brief story synopsis, guess how the movie ends and be exactly right.
Though it exceeded my low expectations, the film settles for being decent when it could’ve been special. It has two leads in their element, gorgeous scenery, the equally gorgeous Malin Ackerman, a handful of really funny moments and the game-for-anything Betty White who, sans headdress, steals pretty much every moment she has, even in a movie this unexceptional.
Bullock’s career has survived awful sequels (Speed 2 and Miss Congeniality 2) and, like Reynolds, she can hold her own in films both deadly serious and laugh-out-loud funny. She needs to hop onto a better comedy vehicle and not settle for The Next Proposal. MTW