19 October 2009 | EUyeshima
Starts Off with Snap and Verve But Moves Soon Enough Into Predictable Rom-Com Territory
Even though it so clearly apes the set-up of David Frankel's "The Devil Wears Prada", I think the first 25 minutes of this 2009 romantic comedy has genuine snap enhanced by the sharp comedy interplay between stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. Once the story leaves the Manhattan publishing house for the pastoral wilderness of Alaska, the story reverts into a formulaic sitcom bearing more than a passing resemblance to Bullock's break-out vehicle, 1995's "While You Were Sleeping", including an escalation of comic deceptions and a heart-tugging wedding confessional. Give credit to the fortyish actress/producer for not giving in too much to standard ingénue behavior this time. In fact, she plays the alpha dog with Reynolds relegated to the traditional leading lady role. The result produces enough contrived shenanigans to please Bullock's die-hard fans thanks to by-the-numbers work by director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses") and first-time screenwriter Pete Chiarelli.
The storyline has Bullock playing vituperative book editor Margaret Tate, a workaholic careerist who instills fear into her entire office. As her bullied assistant Andrew Paxton, Reynolds caters to her every whim in the hopes that she will help boost his publishing career. As is typical for an opposites-attract rom-com, a complication occurs when Margaret, a Canadian, finds out she is to be deported because her visa application has been denied. Instead of facing immediate termination, she manipulates Andrew to let her superiors know that they are getting married. This moment of desperate deceit leads to an awkward visit with an immigration agent who senses a green-card arrangement and requires proof of their relationship. In order to avert suspicion, Margaret accompanies Andrew to visit his close-knit family in Sitka, Alaska, where it is revealed his family is quite wealthy and in fact, run many of the businesses in town.
They continue their charade of being engaged, which of course, fans the flames of his family's enthusiasm for a wedding. The rest of the film is pretty much you would expect save a strange episode of Andrew's grandmother performing a native dance in the woods. It's funny to see how Bullock cleverly uses the same prickliness she displayed effectively in her near-cameo in Paul Haggis' "Crash" in this film's establishing scenes as Margaret. In turn, Reynolds shows smart timing as put-upon Andrew, and their interplay has a nice edge. Note how well they perform during the best scenes early on when Margaret baldly lies about their upcoming nuptials at the office and in front of the immigration officer. It's just when they move into more traditional rom-com territory where their chemistry feels weakened and the sparks doused. Chiarelli's haphazard screenplay doesn't help them as they have little beyond one bedtime confessional scene to make us think they may belong together. Craig T. Nelson plays a familiar role as Andrew's disapproving father, but their subplot weighs down the proceedings unnecessarily.
Except for one brief face-off with Nelson, Mary Steenburgen is wasted as Andrew's always-smiling mother. Betty White is a welcome sight as feisty Grandma Annie, although I wish the creators could have made her more like Sue Ann Nivens ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show") and less like Rose Nylund ("The Golden Girls"). As the girl Andrew left behind in Sitka, Malin Akerman ("Watchmen") is actually left stranded by the script, while Oscar Nuñez ("The Office") grows increasingly tiresome as store clerk/male stripper Ramone. His absurd club performance, along with a nude run-in between the principals, just shows how little faith the creators had in the material to sustain the plot. Standard extras come with the 2009 DVD: a decent commentary track from Fletcher and Chiarelli (but sadly not the actors), seven minutes of outtakes, two deleted scenes of little interest, and an alternate ending which really just switches the locale versus the resolution.