It doesn’t take an encyclopedic knowledge of film history to recognize that The Proposal is pretty much a wholesale retread of the 1990 Andie MacDowell/Gerard Depardieu vehicle Green Card, in which MacDowell needed to be married to stay in her plush Manhattan apartment and Depardieu needed to be married to stay in the country. The Proposal’s wilderness setting provides a few fish-out-of-water variables for the tried-and-true set-up of two people pretending to be in love who then fall in love for real. Bullock gets to look silly wandering through the streets of Sitka in stiletto heels, or letting what passes for a local exotic dancer (Oscar Nunez) gyrate all over her. Those who fear the sight of new ground being broken can attend safely.
The old ground, however, proves surprisingly comfortable. Reynolds — who for most of his career has radiated smug self-absorption — does genuinely likeable work as a guy with plenty of insecurity issues to work through. He also gets to bite off some of the sharpest lines in Pete Chiarelli’s script, like suggesting people might like the witchy Margaret more if she would “stop eating children while they dream.”
Bullock, meanwhile, finds the sympathetic core of her flinty character, re-discovering the appeal that made her so reliable in romantic comedies since she started making them more than a decade ago. Even Betty White does nice things with the usually thankless role of the wacky granny. Director Anne Fletcher was a choreographer before transitioning to romantic comedies with last year’s 27 Dresses, and here she deftly choreographs the familiar plot progression. It’s funnier and more charming than it seems to have any right to be.
The Proposal is assured enough when it’s low-key that the ridiculous stuff — like an eagle kidnapping a puppy, or Bullock cutting loose with a dance around a bonfire — feels even more ridiculous. The comedy only needs to come from characters fumbling toward admitting what we already know, and the emotion only needs to come from the gracefulness of the scenes with which they open up to one another.
Good meals don’t result only from combinations you’ve never experienced; sometimes you still love a recipe you’ve tasted 100 times before. All you really need are quality ingredients. Grade: B
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