The Proposal

(2009) ** Pg-13
108 min. Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. Director: Anne Fletcher. Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Denis O'Hare, Malin Akerman, Mary Steenburgen.

/content/films/3450/1.jpgCalling the new romantic comedy The Proposal contrived is like stating that grass is green. It's a romantic comedy fer gosh sakes. Contrivance is part of the deal. Whether or not we buy in to the contrivance is the question: it's a matter of goodwill based on the actors' charm and the filmmakers' skill. The former takes The Proposal a long way, but the latter serves something much worse than contrivance: formula.

First, the contrivance. The employees of Ruick & Hunt Publishing fear their boss, high-powered editor Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock, always a pro). Her personal assistant Andrew Paxton (an amiably sarcastic Ryan Reynolds) is no exception. Andrew suggests she'd be better off if she'd only "stop snacking on children while they dream." Control-freak Margaret hits the wall when she's scheduled for a career-ending deportation to Canada. Thinking quickly, she grabs Andrew and announces they're to marry. A combination of blackmail and career promises get Andrew on board the plan, despite the threats of jail time from a zealous immigration officer (Denis O'Hare). Can the oil and water twosome keep it together long enough to walk down the aisle?

The formula kicks in as Andrew hauls Margaret to Sitka, Alaska for a family weekend celebrating his "Gammy"'s ninetieth birthday. Constitutionally unsuited for folksy smalltown socialization, Margaret is a classic fish out of water, but the ice queen slowly thaws according to rom-com convention. It's hard to swallow that a horrid woman becomes a softie in forty-eight hours, especially since she and Andrew spend so many of them unable to resist undermining each other. But screenwriter Pete Chiarelli at least attempts to justify how this "witch" has a heart: Margaret lost both her parents in her youth, so she's used to getting by without love and support, see?

Once the movie moves from New York City to Sitka, it's pure formula, with each scene building to a silly shenanigan. Uh oh...Margaret let the dog out! Holy that Gammy doing a pagan ritual in the woods? OMG...That male stripper is so wrong! Eeeek...Andrew and Margaret just smacked into each other buck naked! But Chiarelli and director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) bring no spontaneity to any of this. Though there's definitely an audience for the story's increasingly sunny sweetness, the film sparks to life pretty much only when the estimable duo of Bullock and Reynolds bickers. Aasif Mandvi of The Daily Show and Oscar Nuñez of The Office labor in small parts, Malin Akerman (Watchmen) gets the thankless role of Andrew's road-not-taken girlfriend, and Craig T. Nelson and Mary Steenburgen make naughty and nice as Andrew's parents.

I'll concede that The Proposal is, for the most part, going to be a commercial crowd pleaser, but so little in it surprises with creativity or emotion--it's straight out of the rom-com playbook. It's almost all worth it just to support 87-year-old Betty White as Gammy Annie, who turns out to be on screen more than anyone but the two leads. Every penny of those no-doubt exorbitant insurance premiums was worth it for this comedy dynamo: it's just a shame she has to work so hard to prop up run-of-the-mill material.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 10/13/2009

Distributor: Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Disney keeps digital artifacts at bay in The Proposal's Blu-ray debut, which features a generally strong and detailed image. Textures aren't all they can be, and contrast and color waver a bit, as evidenced by shifting skin tones and inconsistent depth and black levels. But it's entirely possible that these quibbles are the result of the kind of overzealous post-production tweaking that many films undergo before they even arrive in theaters. At any rate, The Proposal looks fine for a romantic comedy, and especially good where it counts: in the outdoor location footage. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is mighty impressive, with clear dialogue, weighty surround effects and full-bodied music; it's safe to say no one will be complaining about the audio here.

The Proposal includes an audio commentary with director Anne Fletcher and screenwriter Peter Chiarelli. They're not exactly a scintillating duo, but those wishing for those who love the movie, the behind-the-scenes tidbits will no doubt satisfy.

Three "Deleted Scenes" (6:32, HD) and an "Alternate Ending" (6:35, HD) come with optional commentary. One of the deleted scenes is a Blu-ray exclusive.

"Set Antics: Outtakes and Other Absurdities from The Proposal" (6:33, HD) intersperses gag reel moments with Aasif Mandvi and others cutting up on set; also, the featurette incorporates brief interviews with Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Oscar Nuñez, and Fletcher.

Like the Deluxe DVD Edition, the Blu-Ray edition also offers a Digital Copy.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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