Fri, Sep 04, 2009 - Page 16 News List

FILM REVIEW: Taming of the savage boss

When her visa expires, an alpha female sets her sights on marching her assistant up the aisle, before melting in his arms

By Manohla Dargis  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

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Blame the heels. In her new movie, The Proposal, Sandra Bullock, playing a Type A (rhymes with) witch, totters around in a pair of exquisite high heels, the kind that elongate the legs and give a woman’s derriere the gentle backward thrust familiar from fertility figurines. The character, a no-nonsense, no-smiling publishing executive, otherwise favors an aerodynamic look (pencil skirts and ponytails), but the heels betray her. They throw a curve into her straight line and force her to tilt, sway and wobble. She might be the mistress — the harsh and exacting mistress — of her universe, but she’s clearly been prepped for a fall.

Like most Hollywood romantic comedies these days, The Proposal is all about bringing a woman to her knees, quite literally in this case. The simple premise is partly telegraphed in the advertising tag line, “Here comes the bribe,” which evokes wedding bells and desperation. One day at the office, Margaret Tate (Bullock), a Canadian who’s let her visa expire, suddenly finds herself scrambling for a way to stay in the US and the big New York office where she rules with an iron fist clutching a designer bag. She finds the means to her salvation, yes, in more ways than one, in the pleasant form of her assistant, Andrew (Ryan Reynolds), a beleaguered Guy Friday who slavishly attends to many of her needs.

A stud-in-waiting, Andrew will soon be attending to Margaret’s other desires, of course. Overlong story short: Margaret blackmails Andrew into a sham marriage proposal in exchange for a promotion. He agrees, though only after making her kneel on the sidewalk. They fly to a cute little town in Alaska, where she discovers his family lives on its own island in a mansion picturesquely surrounded by mountains. You can’t see Russia from the front door, but there are loads of amenities, if remarkably no visible hired help. Mom (Mary Steenburgen) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson) are on hand, as is Grandma Annie (Betty White), the resident unfunny old-lady kook who’s about to turn 90 and could use a little face time with a big pillow.

FILM NOTES

The Proposal

DIRECTED BY:

Anne Fletcher

STARRING:

SANDRA BULLOCK (MARGARET

TATE), RYAN REYNOLDS (ANDREW PAXTON), MARY STEENBURGEN (GRACE PAXTON), CRAIG T. NELSON (JOE PAXTON), BETTY WHITE (GRANDMA ANNIE), DENIS O’HARE (MR GILBERTSON) AND MALIN AKERMAN (GERTRUDE)

RUNNING TIME:

108 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE:

TODAY


You know the rest because you’ve seen (and read) it many times before. After nestling in the bountiful bosom of family and some unexpected naked slapstick with Andrew, Margaret melts. He mans the ramparts, she lowers her defenses. He thrusts, she parries. He chops wood and loses his shirt. She loses her cellphone and ditches the heels. He rescues her, scooping her out of the water after she falls from a boat. She shivers and smiles and tears up as she talks about her tragic past, revealing the sad little girl who’s long been hidden behind the cruel disguise of a sensationally successful professional adult. Ding-dong the witch is soon dead and in her place, well, here comes the bride.

The director marshaling all these cliches and stereotypes is Anne Fletcher, whose last gig was the similarly obnoxious 27 Dresses. Working from a script by Peter Chiarelli, Fletcher betrays no originality from behind the camera and not a hint of visual facility. The opening scenes, including shots of Andrew rushing through the streets while balancing coffee cups, are right out of The Devil Wears Prada, minus the snap. The scene in which Margaret runs around naked is borrowed from Something’s Gotta Give, though here the point isn’t that desirability transcends age but that at 44, Bullock still has an amazing body. The rest of the movie looks like many industrial entertainments of this type: it’s decently lighted and as lived in as a magazine advertisement.

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