"Do you prefer being called Margaret, or Satan's Mistress?"
Long before I started reviewing for DVD Talk, I was a regular reader who anxiously clicked on the reviews of Francis Rizzo III, among other talented writers. His ingenious "In Ten Words or Less" capsules and "Reviewer's Bias" charts are an unforgettable trademark, something I wish I had thought of first (I never would have, so it's a healthy jealously). Not only do they make me laugh (and sometimes get me fired up: no way is Andy more annoying than Dwight on The Office!), they also put his reviews into perfect perspective.
It's an observation I wanted to point out for my take on The Proposal, because my bias has clearly influenced me. You see, I ♥ Sandra Bullock. She's just so damn cool, funny, charismatic, down to earth and relatable. You get the sense that she's as genuine in person as she is in interviews, a surprisingly "normal" movie star who tops my "Please Be My Bestest Friend Ever!" list.
Sandy and I have an even deeper connection: I live just miles away from Washington-Lee High School, where she (along with Shirley MacLaine, albeit at different times) attended before hitting the big time. The school has become the final and most exotic stop on my popular Tour of Arlington--ground so hallowed that it trumps the Pentagon, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and yes, even the court house where sportscaster Marv Albert was indicted on assault and sodomy charges.
As if Bullock's presence wasn't enough to cloud my judgment, the film also features another irresistible lure: Ryan Reynolds. Okay, okay...you got me: shirtless Ryan Reynolds. How can my Shoddy Script Detector compete with that? Why even bother? With Bullock being all charming and Reynolds being all naked, I was powerless. The truth is, I probably wouldn't enjoy The Proposal if it starred almost anyone other than Bullock, and the film's success ultimately hinges on her persona--and her chemistry with Reynolds--to win you over. Thankfully, for me, it did.
She stars as successful businesswoman Margaret Tate, an uptight editor who instills fear in her entire office and likes to bust many a ball--including those of beleaguered assistant Andrew (Reynolds), who counts "midnight Tampax runs" as one of his many thankless duties. But when Margaret's visa application is denied (and the resultant deportation to Canada threatens to derail her career path), she comes up with an impromptu solution: marry Andrew--something that comes as a shock to everyone, including him. While Andrew loathes his boss, the fear of also getting fired--and the opportunity to advance his own career--causes him to sign up for the crazy scheme.
But time's a wasting, so the two quickly fly to Sitka, Alaska, where Andrew's stunned family has to host an impromptu wedding. But convincing his clan--which includes skeptical father Joe (Craig T. Nelson), loving mom Grace (Mary Steenburgen) and "Grammie" Annie (Betty White)--is just one of many obstacles the two face. In addition to cringing at each other's touch, the two are being watched by the eagle eyes of Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O'Hare), a wily immigration agent who's on to their plot and just itching to put them behind bars.
Can the two anti-lovebirds put aside their differences and pull off this scam? Can nature-hating, water-hating, dog-hating Margaret warm up to the slow life and people of the small town she's trapped in? Can Andrew find acceptance from his disapproving dad, who wants him to ditch his New York dreams and take over the family business? Can the two open up to each other about their insecurities?
Like all of the not-so-suspenseful questions raised in this by-the-numbers romantic comedy, the answers are obvious. It's around the 45-minute mark where we start to see cracks forming in Margaret's tough veneer (her parents are both deceased, and she just doesn't know what it's like to love or be loved!) and in their distaste for each other, leading to a turn of events that shocks the whole family! Along the way, we're treated to silly sidetracks that dumb down the film's sincerity for the sake of easy "humor"--including a confrontation with an eagle, a "girls night out" strip club visit and a Granny dance in the woods.
To have any hope at enjoying the film, you just have to accept its absurdity. I was twice reminded of the same sitcom while watching The Proposal, which isn't a good thing: Margaret and Andrew's attempt to convince his family that they are getting married--as well as Margaret's embarrassment at being caught singing a foul-mouth song ("Get Low" by Lil' Jon & the Eastside Boyz) are straight out of Friends (Rachel preferred "Baby Got Back"), which probably borrowed the bits from somewhere else.
It can be rough going, and the film fumbles a few more times: a potential love triangle with Andrew's college sweetheart Grutrude (Malin Akerman) hints at a more complex, mature storyline that never materializes; a running joke with The Office's Oscar Nunez as Ramone--who holds down a lot of jobs in Sitka--wears thin; and the script doesn't do quite enough with White, relying too much on the "Oh, isn't it cute! She's old but saucy!" novelty (which isn't nearly as shocking anymore after Lake Placid). Still, she's Betty White and can do no wrong--and the film is far better with her in it.
Ditto Bullock, who has found one of the better vehicles in a career that includes more than a few missteps (I'm still trying to lower my expectations as far as possible before seeing All About Steve). Here, she's assured and convincing, and her transformation from Bitch on Wheels to vulnerable, misunderstood Margaret isn't jarring. She's at once sharp and searing, sweet and sympathetic. And Reynolds--trying so hard to once again overcome the hindrance of his looks (poor guy!) and be taken seriously--does an admirable job. He's carved out his own niche playing put-upon protagonists who hide their slowly building rage--which threatens to boil over any second--behind a smile (and did I mention his chest?).
And the two of them work beautifully together--the film's greatest moments come during the spats, where Margaret and Andrew successfully get under each other's skin. Bullock and Reynolds seem to relish the challenge of taking aim at each other, and both are on top of their game. But the two are equally adept handing the more complex challenges that soon come--including the confusing middle stages and the amorous admissions that follow. They're both likeable throughout, and there's real chemistry here.
It's that spark between the two that overrides the film's flaws, making it a fun in spite of the silliness--which, in the film's defense, sometimes works: the cutely choreographed "naked scene" holds up well (but is Margaret insane?!: "Oh God...you're showing everything! Cover it up, for the love of God!" Don't you dare, Ryan!), and the closing credits end things on a successful note. Even with the film's obvious structure, I still had a smile on my face from start to finish--the result of a bias I'm happy to embrace.
The film arrives in an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer that is solid if not scintillating. I saw this in the theater, and seem to remember on overall warm yet drab tone to the film's look, which is presented here. It just looks dull, and isn't quite as sharp and pristine as you would expect a recent major studio release to look.
The 5.1 track (available in French and Spanish) is also decent; dialogue is never an issue. Not much is made of surround effects, save for the shrill sound of a barking dog that startled me on more than one occasion (which I guess is the point, huh?). Subtitles come in English, French and Spanish.
There's a feature-length audio commentary, but don't get too excited: it's with director Anne Fletcher and writer Peter Chiarelli. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I salivate at the though of a Bullock/Reynolds track, which would have been a must-listen. Fletcher and Chiarelli don't get off to a very good start, explaining obvious plot developments, a pattern that continues. It gets a little better, but not much.
Still, they show a lot of care and love for the work and the cast (Fletcher frequently praises Bullock's physical comedy skills), which is a good sign--and note that the film is all about "undressing Margaret." They also acknowledge the similarity of Reynolds chopping wood here and in The Amityville Horror remake (which Chiarelli, then a studio executive, also worked on; he unsuccessfully tried to write Reynolds shirtless in the scene here, something Fletcher enjoys teasing him about: "You love him...chopping and shirtless!"). The two also note that only scene rehearsed was the "naked scene", which provides one of the commentaries best moments (Bullock and Reynolds didn't bat an eye at the prospect of being shot "head-to-toe naked").
The duo also provides optional commentary on the alternate ending (6:32), worth a look (watch it twice, once with commentary) but probably a smart deletion (although Reno 911!'s Niecy Nash provides a few chuckles); and two deleted scenes that don't offer much (the audio commentary references a deleted scene that isn't here, where Gertrude makes a play for Andrew). Set Antics: Outtakes and Other Absurdities from The Proposal (6:31) is half fun, half boring. It provides some chuckles, but not nearly enough--it's clear the cast had a fun time behind the set, and it would have been nice to see more of it. Still, the shot of Reynolds kissing Kevin the dog is too...cute...for words (I've already blown it up and made it my desktop image). Also watch for Bullock stumbling down the steps of the plane in the alternate ending, a shot where she apparently injured herself.
Too...cute! Can't...stand it!
Sadly, the hysterical "Behind the Scenes of The Proposal"--a popular mock clip exclusive to FunnyOrDie.com that featured Reynolds getting eviscerated by his female co-stars--isn't included. Trailers--and a digital copy on the second disc--round out the package.
Based solely upon the script and plot, The Proposal is a highly formulaic film stuffed with unrealistic situations, obvious twists and forced silliness. But when you have Sandra Bullock in fine form, who cares? Her charm--and her chemistry with Ryan Reynolds--more than makes up for the film's flaws, easily elevating it above other romantic comedies. This is a highly watchable piece of fluff that glides by on the likeability of its stars, who kept a smile on my face from start to finish (and did I mention Ryan's abs?!). Recommended.