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The Proposal is exactly what you expect it to be, then again maybe it’s not. All the usual romantic comedy clichés are present and all the usual characters are too. So by the way, are the usual actors with Sandra Bullock doing yet another rom-com and the increasingly less talented Ryan Reynolds drifting further and further away from the interesting films he should be doing into the Matthew McConaughey vortex of endless paychecks, shirtless moments, and critical scorn. Yep, the same old pieces are here and so are the same old faces. Yet The Proposal is maybe, just maybe, a notch above all the usual rom-com dreck you’re used to. It’s doing the same old thing but seems to know it and so does its best to find something new buried in those clichés, at least enough to make this whole thing worthwhile.
Our first collection of clichés involves the couple. Sandra Bullock is Margaret Tate, a career minded city girl who works so hard at playing the invincible boss that her employees hate her and she never has time to find a man. That’s cliché #1. Except the movie never pushes her character into that cartoony territory other films so often do. Sure she’s kind of a ball-buster, but The Proposal never takes it so far that she becomes the standard, stereotyped bitch. They never take it so far that we hate her, not even when she blackmails her assistant into marrying her.
Welcome to cliché #2 where we discover that Margaret is actually a Canadian and must marry an American or she’ll get deported. Her assistant Andrew seems to be the only man she knows, and so to save both their careers he agrees to a marriage of convenience. To prove to the government that it’s not a sham wedding, Andrew and Margaret must visit his parents and convince them of their faux love. Andrew’s family happens to live in rural Alaska. Welcome to cliché #3 where the big city girl is forced to adjust to life in small town America. Yet here again, The Proposal stops short of becoming that standard, high-heel wearing fish out of water caricature. Andrew’s parents as it happens, are extremely rich and their house is more of a mansion than some log cabin in the woods. And while there’s still plenty of folksy fun had with the locals, it doesn’t take long for Margaret to realize that high-heels are not the proper attire for boating and that lacy lingerie may not be the best apparel for sleeping during the cold Alaskan winter.
With Andrew’s family we meet the disapproving father, who played by Craig T. Nelson checks in as cliché #4. Shortly thereafter we meet the crazy and inappropriate grandmother, who you can check off as cliché #5. Except wait a minute! Granny may be crazy and prone to outrageous outbursts, but she’s played by the infinitely talented Betty White who manages also to make her sweet and kind. Her wacky, dancing granny character is more than a comedy prop, she’s even kind of cool.
The Proposal continues on, checking off one cliché after another. There’s the vicious but cute family pet, a scene where our reluctant couple accidentally sees each other naked, and an uncomfortable moment with a male stripper. It’s all pretty familiar but The Proposal does its best to keep its energy up anyway. Our couple’s naked scene takes things up a notch to actual accidental contact and the default gigolo is played by The Office’s Oscar Nuñez, who pulls off the funniest male stripper sequence I’ve seen since Chris Farley took on Patrick Swayze.
Sandra Bullock’s character is smart but kind of a bore and Ryan Reynolds is likable but ultimately miscast as a brooding blank slate when he should be the film’s comedic focus. Then there’s the script, which despite its best efforts is still, just another collection of rom-com clichés. On its own maybe The Proposal isn’t worth praising but then again, up against the other garbage being shoveled out into the rom-com genre in recent years maybe it is. Director Anne Fletcher handles her film with a light, self-aware touch and the movie’s supporting characters make the most of their moments, enough to get us through the all too conventional rough patches. Date night may be better than you expect.