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The Proposal

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As a subgenre, the romantic comedy seems out of surprises. The template is simple: Two mismatched people, brought together through a series of coincidental and increasingly unlikely events, discover that despite their many differences they love each other in that special (i.e. nonexistent) way that keeps the diamond and wedding industries in business. The arc "? including the bit toward the end when it seems impossible that the couple can really get together "? is a foregone conclusion. Things are generally funny for the first three-quarters of the movie, until things get all serious, and then there is (usually public) kissing.

So with plot tension and unexpected character development off the table, a successful romantic comedy must rely on casting and funny gags. While "The Proposal" suffers from chronic predictability, its creators were at least wise enough to cast some smart, funny people to lead us down the wide, well-traveled road to True Love.

Our mismatched couple is Margaret (Sandra Bullock, "Premonition") and Andrew (Ryan Reynolds, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"). She is an ice-queen book editor who lives to scarify her employees' spirits. This goes double for Andrew, her personal assistant. He picks up laundry, buys Tampax and generally spends his every waking moment doing her bidding, and hates her for it.

In a sudden (and convenient) twist, it turns out Margaret is a Canadian national and, due to some mismanaged paperwork, is about to be deported to Toronto.

So naturally, Margaret demands that Andrew marry her. After adding some conditions of his own, he agrees, and the unhappy couple flies off to Alaska, to meet his family.

PALATIAL MANSION
It turns out the clan is a sort of June Cleaver-style wet dream. Mom Grace (Mary Steeburgen, "Four Christmases"), dad Joe (Craig T. Nelson, "Blades of Glory") and Grandma Annie (Betty White, TV's "Boston Legal") live together in a palatial mansion overlooking the bay. Grace and Annie are painfully nice, and although Joe has some issues with Andrew, the overall atmosphere is one of rural rapture.

In the tradition of standard-issue sitcoms, the second act's impetus derives from Andrew and Margaret fooling the family into believing they're really in love. Kooky gags and outrageous pickles abound.

But again, what makes or breaks movies like this is casting. While one might get the idea this is a Sandra Bullock vehicle, director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses") was smart enough to make it more of an ensemble effort. Reynolds turns in a funny, acerbic performance and the "Northern Exposure"-style eccentric locals (including Oscar Nu

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