Contrived is almost too soft a word for the premise of The Proposal, Sandra Bullock's latest romantic comedy offering, yet the fresh dialogue, gorgeous scenery, and ultimately winsome love story make this one of the most appealing romances to come down the pike in recent years.

Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a hard-as-nails book editor in the vein of Meryl Streep's iconic Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada. She's so loathed and feared that her employees send out frantic instant messages warning of her impending arrival in the office. "The witch is on her broom." But unlike Anne Hathaway's bumbling, lost Andie from Prada, Margaret's assistant is skillful, competent, ambitious Andrew Paxton. As played by Ryan Reynolds, Drew has confidence to spare and has managed to stay a step ahead of Margaret's wrath for three years.

Ryan Reynolds as Andrew, Sandra Bullock as Margaret

Ryan Reynolds as Andrew, Sandra Bullock as Margaret

Margaret has just scored the coup of a lifetime by convincing her most reclusive author to appear on Oprah. It's a career-making move, but Margaret's triumph is cut off at the knees when she's called into the publisher's office. It seems that Margaret, a Canadian, flouted US immigration by traveling to the Frankfurt book fair while her work visa was expired. She's being deported. Her career is over.

Now, in true romantic comedy silliness, Margaret's urgent problem presents an immediate solution when Drew steps in with a phone message. He told the caller Margaret was "otherwise engaged," and Margaret's kohl-rimmed eyes narrow with a nefarious plot worthy of Queen Cleopatra herself. She announces that she and Drew are engaged to be married. Problem solved.

Drew has no desire to go along with Margaret's scheme until she points out that his career will be toast if he doesn't. It's not because Margaret will ruin him. Once deported, she can't work for an American company. Rather, her successor will fire him because he was Margaret's assistant.

Margaret drags Drew down to the US immigration office where she jumps the line. Immigration officer Mr. Gilbertson (a marvelous Denis O'Hare) smells a rat and urges Drew to reconsider a move that could land him in prison for five years. All he has to do is admit the truth. Drew says the truth is that they're in love and getting married and are spending the weekend in Alaska to share the news with his family. But before they get on the plane, Drew enacts a promise from Margaret that she'll promote him to editor.

Betty White (right) is hilarious as Andrew's 'Gammy'

Betty White (right) is hilarious as Andrew's 'Gammy'

And thus, after the most calculating of courtships, the conniving couple travels by first-class plane, puddle jumper, and motorboat to Drew's utterly gorgeous family mansion in the mouthwatering Alaskan wilderness. They've got it all worked out—stay married just long enough to get immigration off their case, then a quickie divorce and they'll forget it ever happened.

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Any savvy movie watcher will guess what will happen over the course of the film. This is a romantic comedy starring two very attractive people who happen to have great chemistry together. But screenwriter Peter Chiarelli pulls off both an absurd premise and a formulaic plotline—and then some. Beneath the flippant veneer lurks a movie that takes matrimony and family quite seriously. Margaret and Drew are led to place of reverence for marriage that compels them to make good on the casual promise that they made when Margaret "proposed" to Drew. Her journey from ice queen to blushing bride ends up being surprisingly moving.

That's not to say that The Proposal is heavy handed or soggy. On the contrary, it's good comedic fun the whole way through. Director Anne Fletcher uses a light hand and keeps things moving, while screenwriter Chiarelli peppers Drew's dialogue with unexpectedly fresh quips. As Margaret and Drew study for their immigration quiz, to prove how well they know each other, Drew asks Margaret if she has any hobbies. "Besides snacking on children while they dream," he adds.

Craig T. Nelson as Andrew's father

Craig T. Nelson as Andrew's father

The stabs at broad physical comedy mostly hit the mark. The movie trailers feature a scene where Margaret and Drew end up crashing into each other while stark naked. The setup actually works, though Fletcher's camera lingers a bit too long on Bullock's artfully covered nude body. This seemed an odd choice and a departure in a film that largely feels modest, almost unfashionably so. The flashes of skin in this scene are all that keep The Proposal from being a worthy companion film to the classic It Happened One Night, skirting immorality from an ultimately chaste position.

Bullock and Reynolds are a lot of fun to watch, playing off one another perfectly. As Drew's functionally dysfunctional family, supporting players Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen bring a delightful depth to their roles, with Betty White's Gammy offering comic relief that transcends cliché.

The Proposal represents a welcome departure from the cynicism and blatant sexuality that have marked too many recent romantic comedies. It's a silly premise, but the emotional honesty and fine comedy make you remember that realism isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

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Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why would a fake marriage be so devastating for a family?

  2. Have you ever kept a secret in order to gain an advantage or get out of a responsibility?

  3. Why is marriage too important to take lightly?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Proposal is rated PG-13 for sexual content, nudity and language. The nudity refers to a scene where the main characters accidentally crash into each other while naked; while no genitalia is shown, the camera lingers a bit too long here, especially on Bullock. Sexual content also includes a male striptease at a bachelorette party; it's played up for humor/grotesquerie, not arousal, but again, the camera lingers too long. Language includes some four-letter words and a couple uses of the Lord's name in vain, but overall is relatively mild for a PG-13 film. The family assumes and accepts that Margaret and Drew are having premarital sex.

The Proposal
Our Rating
3½ Stars - Good
Average Rating
(25 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sexual content, nudity and language)
Directed By
Anne Fletcher
Run Time
1 hour 48 minutes
Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Steenburgen
Theatre Release
June 19, 2009 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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