The rom-com template is simple: two mismatched people, brought together through a series of coincidental and increasingly unlikely events, discover that despite their many differences they love each other. The arc “ including the bit toward the end when it seems impossible that the couple can really get together “ is a foregone conclusion.
So with plot tension and unexpected character development off the table, a successful romantic comedy must rely on casting and funny gags. While “The Proposal” suffers from chronic predictability, its creators were at least wise enough to cast some smart, funny people.
Margaret (Sandra Bullock) is an ice-queen book editor who lives to scarify her employees’ spirits. This goes double for Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), her personal assistant. In a sudden twist, it turns out Margaret is a Canadian national and, due to some mismanaged paperwork, is about to be deported. Naturally, she demands that Andrew marry her.
After adding some conditions of his own, he agrees, and the unhappy couple flies off to Alaska to meet Andrew’s family. In the tradition of standard-issue sitcoms, the second act’s impetus derives from Andrew and Margaret fooling the family into believing they’re really in love. Kooky gags and outrageous pickles abound.
But again, what makes or breaks movies like this is casting. While one might get the idea this is a Bullock vehicle, director Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses”) was smart enough to make it more of an ensemble effort. Reynolds turns in a funny, acerbic performance and the “Northern Exposure”-style eccentric locals add comedic dimension. Betty White is almost overused as the Sassy Granny, but manages to hold her character together in a way a lesser personality couldn’t manage. Bullock seems out of her depth among the veterans and greater talents; while she doesn’t ruin the movie, one gets the feeling a different leading woman might have elevated the end product.
Oh, and Alaska is really pretty.