Sandra Bullock tries on a different clichéd role for The Proposal, trading in her usual goofy-cute persona for that of a frigid, detestable corporate bitch. The new threads generally suit her, as Bullock’s heartless routine as a Manhattan book publisher who suffers no one lightly is appropriately frosty. Far more chilling about director Anne Fletcher’s contrived hogwash, however, is its regressiveness, which stems not only from its reductive portrait of urban career women as loveless cretins, but also from its hackneyed fish-out-of-water scenario in which said hag is forced to endure a weekend with warm, friendly country folk, and is eventually transformed into a worthwhile individual by a heroically understanding hunk.
Margaret Tate (Bullock) is a tyrant who callously bullies co-workers and, especially, her secretary Andrew (Ryan Reynolds). Upon learning she’s about to be deported to her native Canada, she hatches a plan to stay in the country by blackmailing Andrew into marrying her. It’s a scam that horrifies Andrew (who hates his boss), and leads them both to his wealthy family home in Alaska, where the two gamely attempt to sell their ruse to the clan lest a pesky immigration officer uncover the truth. Cue sarcastic and lewd jokes from grammy (Betty White), conflict between Andrew and his father (Craig T. Nelson), the sight of Margaret and Andrew running smack into each other while both nude, and the phony couple falling for each other thanks to a corny, impromptu duet of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.”
Humor and romance are interspersed so predictably it’s as if screenwriter Pete Chairelli were working from a rom-com checklist, whose lame bullet points (animal gags, creepy-weird foreigners, Native American stereotypes) are in service of a story primarily notable for city-country chestnuts and an underlying depiction of professional women as monsters in need of being rescued, figuratively and literally (oh no, Margaret can’t swim!), by Prince Charmings. Bullock and Reynolds’s fruitful combative rapport can’t withstand the film’s adherence to formula, just as their nontraditional older-woman-younger-man age dynamic—and two tech-related jokes (one involving Twitter, the other about dial-up modems)—prove minor progressive elements in otherwise retrograde proceedings.