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Sandra Bullock is one of the most likable and skilled comedians in movies today, but she hasn’t had a comedy hit since the first “Miss Congeniality” nine years ago. That’s about to change with “The Proposal,” an engaging, well-crafted lark that proves “high concept” isn’t necessarily a tired tactic.
Bullock also is talented enough to play convincingly against her genial image here as the proverbial boss from hell, Margaret Tate, a hard-driving New York book editor. Choreographer-turned-director Anne Fletcher (“27 Dresses,” “Step Up”) delivers a well-paced, highly attractive production. Summer audiences, especially the female segment, should have no hesitation accepting this “Proposal.”
Peter Chiarelli’s script borrows a page or two from “The Devil Wears Prada” in the opening scenes, as Margaret’s fearsome reputation literally precedes her among her frantic office staff. Chief among these is her younger, underappreciated assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), who harbors his own ambitions to become an editor.
Margaret has been so focused on her career, she’s neglected a few legalities and is suddenly informed that she faces deportation to her native Canada. Desperate to keep her job, she impulsively “confesses” that she and Andrew are engaged to be married. Andrew grudgingly agrees to the charade, on condition that he finally gets that book editor position.
The forced romance coincides with a major family celebration back in Andrew’s hometown of Sitka, Alaska, where, Margaret discovers, the Paxton tribe is a very big, affluent deal. Andrew’s mother, Grace (Mary Steenburgen), is warm and welcoming, but his formidable dad, Joe (Craig T. Nelson), who has always resented his son’s rejection of the family business, is skeptical about this older woman in Andrew’s life.
And then there’s Annie, the outspoken and mischievous 90-year-old matriarch played with scene-stealing ebullience by TV icon Betty White. Also in the mix is Gertrude (Malin Akerman of “Watchmen”), the sweet, pretty Alaska girl Andrew abandoned for the big city.
Chiarelli’s script mines all the fish-out-of-water humor of the business-dressed, cell phone-dependent Margaret’s immersion in the more laid-back and sometimes downright odd culture of picturesque Sitka (actually doubled by towns in Massachusetts).
Starting the film as a borderline caricature of an unpleasant workaholic, Bullock convincingly peels back the layers of Margaret, revealing the pain behind her steely facade and the vulnerability that surfaces as she and Andrew get to know each other better amid the tense masquerade. By midpoint, we’re actually rooting for this erstwhile office gargoyle.
It helps immeasurably that Bullock has tremendous chemistry with Reynolds. The former TV actor and “Van Wilder” cutup has been getting a lot of work lately but hasn’t quite broken through as a star. “The Proposal” should remedy that.
He matches Bullock’s comic timing note for note and conveys all of Andrew’s frustration, exasperation and growing attraction to Margaret. (His remarkably fit physique also is a boxoffice plus.) The situations might be formulaic, but the teamwork of the two leads brings them to sparkling life.
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