An everything-goes kind of romantic comedy that gets some mileage out of being less horrible than it should have been, The Proposal marks one major turning point for modern Hollywood: Neither Kate Hudson nor Renée Zellweger are anywhere to be seen. The shenanigans concocted by producer-turned-screenwriter Pete Chiarelli seem right up their alley, after all: Hardbitten career woman takes a break from abusing her male assistant to blackmail him into marriage (she's Canadian, wouldn't you know). Much zany subterfuge and the occasional Hallmark moment then follow, ensuring that her heart of ice will be melted by his warm family and sweet sweet smile.
Since the woman in question is actually played by Sandra Bullock, instead of just pouting and hair-tossing, she is actually allowed to show some fire, before it is inevitably doused by the likable, doe-eyed rouge (Ryan Reynolds, in the shoes normally filled by Matthew McConaughey) she's playing opposite. One does have to keep those opinionated women in line, of course. Article continues below
As gruesomely manipulative Taming of the Shrew scenarios go, The Proposal is right up there with the worst of them. Bullock's fire-breathing monster of an editrix, Margaret Tate, rules her New York publishing house like a fashion-challenged Cruella De Ville, sending minions scattering like blown leaves at her merest dark-eyed glint. (Employees announce her arrival by instant-messaging, "It's here!") In comparison, Reynolds' long-suffering executive assistant, Andrew Paxton, scurries nervously around after her, spilling coffee and getting his hopes dashed on an hourly basis. It doesn't take more than a few minutes for the scenario to get reversed, though, once Tate realizes that she'll have to do something drastic to keep from getting deported, and so threatens Paxton into being her green-card husband. It isn't long after that when Paxton realizes exactly the kind of power he has in hand, spiriting Tate away to his ancestral Alaskan home and using every opportunity as payback for the years of emotional terrorism.
Once the two are in Sitka, Alaska (actually the shore of Massachusetts, doing a poor job of masquerading itself) and pretending to be engaged, the filmmakers pull out all the stops to ensure that the uppity Tate gets her comeuppance. That means there will be a male exotic dancer lunging at her, some naked mortification, one dance scene that's embarrassing both for her and the Native American tribe whose ceremony it's mocking, and even an eagle divebombing at her hair. About the only thing that doesn't happen to Tate is stepping in manure or getting threatened by a grizzly. Meanwhile, Paxton, the rich kid who swanned off to follow his literary dreams in the big city, gets to skate through it all remarkably unscathed, but for a few light head-butting moments with his broad-shouldered dad (Craig T. Nelson). To say the deck is stacked in his favor doesn't even begin to cut it.
Were it not for the jangly screwball energy that Bullock and Reynolds are able to conjure up between the two of them, The Proposal would be just another desperate attempt to jam as many winning formula elements (potty-mouthed grandmother, cute dog, pratfalls that have already been endlessly milked by an inescapable ad campaign) into one graceless package as possible. Between the two of them -- and a couple of sharp supporting turns from Denis O'Hare (as an immigration officer weirdly obsessed with proving the marriage is a fraud) and The Office's Oscar Nuñez as Sitka's most broadly-employed resident -- this would-be fiasco is able to squeeze out a handful of laughs, which is sadly more than most anything starring Kate Hudson can manage these days.