By STEVE PERSALL
Times Film Critic
The Proposal is a pant-by-numbers romantic comedy featuring yet another driven metropolitan woman steered against her will to pastoral surroundings. There she discovers what truly matters in life and love, aided by a hunk she battles true feelings about until the final reel.
Reese Witherspoon took the trip to Sweet Home Alabama. Renee Zellweger found happiness in frosty Minnesota (although few ticket buyers noticed) in New in Town. Now it's Sandra Bullock's turn for an idyllic makeover, and the Alaskan topography is about the only thing different.
The Proposal begins shakily with Bullock unconvincing as Margaret Tate, a witchy New York book editor whose underlings wilt when she passes. Bullock narrows her eyes and clips her lines, but she's still Miss Congeniality waiting to emerge. Margaret is yet another capable woman Hollywood turns into a shrew with an improper wardrobe for places the script takes her.
The chief target of Margaret's self-loathing is her handsome personal assistant, Andrew Paxton (Ryan Reynolds), who needs the job to further his editing aspirations. The role allows Reynolds to submerge his usual air of superiority, suggesting that maybe there's a sophisticated leading man hiding under that smug persona.
Then creaky gears begin turning. Margaret is Canadian, with her visa revoked for hazy reasons. The only way she can remain in the U.S. is by getting married, and Andrew is the fastest possible groom. A few compromises later, they're off to Alaska to meet Andrew's family, in a town with the usual eccentrics. One fresh twist: Oscar Nuñez (TV's The Office) as a jack-of-all-quirks resident.
Like other homecoming hunks, Andrew hasn't lived up to his father's (Craig T. Nelson) expectations, but Mom (Mary Steenburgen) sticks by her boy. There's the usual dotty grandma with a saucy streak played by the apparently immortal Betty White, making the cliche zing. Andrew's ex-girlfriend (Malin Akerman) exists for minor romantic conflict. Everyone treats Margaret better than her self-centered scheme deserves.
Director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) cherry-picks from other contemporary rom-coms: bachelorette party shenanigans, late crises keeping the preordained lovers apart, and mild raunch, in this case Bullock's heavily marketed slapstick nude scene with Reynolds. She's in better shape than Pete Chiarelli's screenplay.
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.