The idea behind The Proposal is nothing special. Marriages of convenience for immigration papers have been the subject of many movies, including (but not limited to) the aptly named Green Card starring Gérard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell, the Canadian illegal alien thriller Honeymoon and A Paper Wedding which sees Geneviève Bujold marry a Chilean man so he can stay in the country. So without a fresh premise what can a movie like The Proposal offer? How about likeable, charismatic stars? Sometimes that’s enough.
Sandra Bullock is Margaret, a high-powered book editor, about to be deported back to her native Canada (“It’s not like I’m an immigrant,” she says, “I’m from Canada!”). She’s the kind of Devil Wears Prada boss who inspires fear and nasty instant messages like “The witch is on her broom” among her staff. In a bid to stay in the U.S. and hang on to her high paying gig—that’s how we know this is a work of fiction; she’s a wealthy book editor, which is like being a rich banjo player— the quick-thinking editor convinces her beleaguered assistant Andrew (Ryan Reynolds, who says he would often “dream of her getting hit by cabs”) to marry her. He says yes, but with a few conditions including meeting his salt-of-the-earth family (Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Betty White) in small town Alaska. As if meeting the family wasn’t enough, a curious immigration official complicates their lives as well.
The Proposal is primarily a rom com with side orders of the old “fish out of water” routine, a bit of slapstick and topped with some heartfelt family values for good measure. So what makes it different from, say, New In Town, the similar but unforgettably terrible Renee Zellweger film from earlier this year?
Two words, Bullock and Reynolds. It’s quite simple; they are likeable actors the audience wants the best for. She’s a rom com vet who brings her considerable charisma to a predictable and occasionally thinly written script; he’s a hunk who can do romance and do funny. Together they elevate a paint-by-numbers story, if not to the level of great art, than at least to the level of those earnest big eyed paintings.
It’s a rom com that focuses on the rom rather than the com. The Proposal does have laughs sprinkled throughout—many of which come from Betty White who seems to be channeling her inner crazy Cloris Leachman here—but overall it can best be described as amiable rather than laugh out loud.
The Proposal doesn’t have the humor of When Harry Met Sally, the heart of Notting Hill or the farce of While You Were Sleeping but the leads have enough charm to smooth out all the film’s rough edges.