Okay, let’s start (for a change) with some math. Sandra Bullock will be turning 45 this July and Ryan Reynolds is 32. And yet, amazingly, in The Proposal, their age difference is not the main focal point of their romantic hijinks. The premise is a simple one (one can practically hear the pitch in some executive’s Burbank office): Ms. Bullock plays Margaret Tate, a high-powered book editor feared by everyone she comes in contact with. She’s Canadian and threatened with deportation, so she forces her long-suffering assistant, Andrew (Reynolds), to step up and marry her so she can get a green card. Because an immigration officer (the always wonderful Denis O’Hare) smells a rat, the two are forced to take a long weekend to Andrew’s family home in Alaska to pretend to be engaged, and at this point, you’d be forgiven if you’ve put your brain into neutral. But wait! True, this film follows most of the rom-com rules, but there are no montages, and a last-minute-airport scene does not go the way you might think.
Ms. Bullock is one of those actresses that help prove that, when done right, a romantic comedy can be a wonderfully satisfying thing. She’s always had a slight edge of nuttiness to her girl-next-door appeal, which is how films like 28 Days or Two Weeks Notice escape being pure drivel. When we first see Margaret stride into her office, cubicle-dwellers diving to alert others via IM à la The Devil Wears Prada, she’s a walking exclamation point in slicked-back ponytail, sleek tailored suit and mind-blowingly high Christian Louboutin heels. Andrew is teeth-grittingly ambitious; he puts up with his boss so that he might advance within the company. When Margaret announces to her superiors that, in fact, she and Andrew are in love and getting married, she winks hey-who-hasn’t-fallen-for-one-of-our-secretaries, with pointed hilarity. Why are we so conditioned to accept a decade-plus age difference between our leading men and women? Pretty Woman’s Richard Gere and Julia Roberts? Eighteen years apart. When Harry met Sally? Billy Crystal was 41 and Meg Ryan was 28. Director Anne Fletcher (27 Dresses) does an admirable job in allowing Ms. Bullock—who’s in fabulous shape, just wait till you see her almost naked!—to actually look older than Mr. Reynolds. Her edges are sharper than his, a tight, forced smile under panicky eyes. Mr. Reynolds, for whom we’ve been cheering since Definitely, Maybe, holds his own and then some. They are mismatched not just because of their age and professional stations, but because Margaret is kind of a tightly controlled mess with a soft hidden underbelly; Andrew a seemingly laid-back man with daddy issues. The two have an easy and sweet chemistry that is believable, even with Andrew’s ex-girlfriend, played by the much younger Malin Akerman, lurking around. Also, one must take a moment to marvel at how awesome both Mary Steenburgen and Betty White (playing Andrew’s mother and grandmother, respectively) are appearing these days. And for the simple fact that there is not one single cougar joke to be found within the screenplay, let us be eternally grateful.