Not so fast, Katherine Heigl. Though you may be the heiress apparent to Hollywood's romantic comedy crown, the genre's queen won't relinquish her throne just yet – nor should she. Sandra Bullock, even in middle age, still reigns supreme, and her perennial perkiness, dry wit, irresistible charm, and effortless ability to tug at our heart strings should keep this ever-appealing actress ruling the rom-com roost for a few more years…if she chooses her projects wisely. Of course, finding a top-flight romantic comedy is about as easy as plucking the proverbial needle from a haystack, but who can blame Bullock for signing up for 'The Proposal?' The lead character fits the star like a glove, the premise brims with comic potential, and hunky leading man Ryan Reynolds – no slouch in the comedy department himself – makes a fine foil. Yet ultimately, Anne Fletcher's amalgam of other, better films pales in comparison to such Bullock gold standards as 'While You Were Sleeping' and 'Miss Congeniality.' The solid cast and breezy pacing make 'The Proposal' a painless enough romp, but its slick shell hides a hollow, predictable story that often strays off course, and Bullock – hard as she tries – can't quite align its rails or beef it up.
Margaret Tate (Bullock) is a high-powered, ceaselessly driven book editor at a top New York publishing house whose all-work-and-no-play attitude consumes her ordered, empty life (shades of Gracie Hart in 'Miss Congeniality'). With a boss-from-hell reputation and a harried assistant to prove it (shades of Miranda Priestley in 'The Devil Wears Prada'), the Canadian-born Margaret ruthlessly keeps her underlings under her thumb until her own boss (Michael Nouri) informs her she's violated the terms of her work visa and faces deportation. Desperate to hang onto her job, Margaret announces she's about to marry Andrew Paxton (Reynolds), her beleaguered, much younger, and most importantly, American guy Friday, so she can gain immediate U.S. citizenship. The flustered, shell-shocked Andrew, who's used to dutifully satisfying Margaret's every whim, goes along with the ruse, but not before seizing the opportunity to further his own agenda by securing from her the promise of a big promotion. (Smart guy.)
Immigration, however, represented by the officious, suspicious Mr. Gilbertson (Denis O'Hare), doesn't buy Margaret's tale of workplace love, and threatens serious consequences for both parties if they don't pass a compatibility test (shades of 'Green Card') when they return from a quick jaunt to Andrew's remote Alaskan homestead to "meet the parents." Dealing with culture shock (shades of 'Northern Exposure') and maintaining the masquerade for Andrew's eccentric brood makes for a stressful weekend, but opposites inevitably attract, and as Margaret and Andrew grow closer, the dragon lady (who lost her own mom and dad at a tender age) also finds herself bonding with his hoodwinked family (shades of 'While You Were Sleeping'). So does Margaret continue the charade and risk hurting and betraying her newfound kin, or does she 'fess up to her selfish plot and face the music?
'The Proposal' has its share of amusing moments, but its lack of originality continually sabotages this promising romantic comedy. Borrowing from one or two films is almost de rigueur in Hollywood these days, but Peter Chiarelli's script apes so many sources, it almost becomes a running gag in and of itself. The opening montage of Margaret arriving at her office as the frantic minions scramble to professionally present themselves is a direct rip-off of a similar sequence in 'The Devil Wears Prada,' but Bullock, God love her, is no Meryl Streep and has trouble pulling it off. Later on, as she navigates familiar waters from her own previous movies, I found it tough to shake the feeling of déjà vu, and the notion that the material worked better years before.
I remain, however, a big Bullock fan, and she gives 110 percent here. Her adorable rating is still off the charts, and even at her most callous, she finds a way to make Margaret likeable. Bullock's timing and delivery are almost always spot on, and she creates terrific chemistry with Reynolds, who himself shines on several occasions. (His initial stunned reaction to Margaret's engagement news recalls the classic bemused responses of such iconic actors as Cary Grant and James Stewart, and is one of the film's high points.) Mary Steenburgen and Craig T. Nelson are both in fine form as Andrew's parents, but it's lovable, 87-year-old Betty White as the sassy, spry family matriarch who walks away with the picture. Why White – a true national treasure – hasn't graced more big-screen comedies since 'The Golden Girls' wrapped is beyond me. Few actresses can bring a smile to one's lips just by showing up, but White is one of them, and the old gal proves she's still got plenty of gas left in her tank with a sparkling, high-energy performance. Her "Easter egg" comment sold this film's trailer, and despite being overplayed, still engenders a hearty laugh when viewed in its proper context.
'The Proposal' is certainly better than a slew of other romantic comedies, but not as good as it could – and should – have been. Its copycat script and ho-hum direction keep it from reaching its potential, but the enthusiastic performances from an attractive, multi-generational cast almost overshadow such deficiencies. Still, for a date-night flick at home, you could do a lot worse than this amiable bit of fluff.
'The Proposal' arrives on Blu-ray sporting a speck-free 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that possesses a distinct digital feel. Though splashes of red exude appropriate vibrancy, the overall palette looks a tad pale. Contrast also seems slightly muted, with brightness elevated a notch or two above normal, which lends the image a colder, flatter look than most new releases. Still, black levels are appropriately deep, and though fleshtones tend to fluctuate, they never wander off the scale. A few scenes err toward the soft side, but on the whole, detail and depth levels are good, and close-ups enjoy a welcome hint of dimensionality.
This is far from a great transfer, especially when one factors in the film's youth, but it's certainly tolerable, and exhibits no evidence of any annoying technical enhancements.
By no means a sonic showcase, 'The Proposal' doesn't maximize the capabilities of its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, but the sound remains clear and crisp throughout, with subtle surround effects providing warm, enveloping ambience from time to time. Of course, most of the audio is securely anchored up front, but accents such as sirens and street noise during the city sequences bleed into the rears, and when the action shifts to the countryside, chirping birds enhance the atmosphere. Bass frequencies are understandably weak (this is a romantic comedy, after all), but dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to comprehend, and the nondescript music by Aaron Zigman is nicely integrated into the mix. On the whole, a solid audio track for a film of this sort.
Surprisingly thin on supplements (this type of film begs for a slick EPK), 'The Proposal' offers a few morsels for fans, but nothing spectacular. All material, however, is presented in stunning HD.
Sandra Bullock makes a welcome return to the rom-com arena in 'The Proposal,' but too many been-there-done-that elements make this tailor-made vehicle feel stale. A great lineup of actors enlivens the proceedings, but even their excellent work can't quite loft it over the hump. Average video and audio and a paltry array of supplements (not to mention the steep $45 MSRP) should dissuade all but the most enthusiastic genre devotees from purchasing this pleasant marital masquerade. For the rest of us, a rental should suffice.
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