BOSTON — "Expect the unexpected, and be prepared to laugh."
Those comments sum up some early reviews from a preview screening of Walt Disney's "The Proposal" Thursday night at the Tremont Street AMC theater, and to which several Cape Ann residents were invited, including those who worked on or assisted in its filming here last year.
A good chunk of the film was shot in Rockport, where the downtown was transformed into the town of Sitka, Alaska. Large totem poles stood tall in Dock Square and the usual storefronts and street pole banners became signs or symbols from Sitka in April 2008. But parts of the film were shot in Gloucester as well as at a private seaside mansion in Manchester.
The film, which stars Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, tells the tale of a high-powered publishing executive, played by Bullock, who tries to avoid deportation to Canada because her visa has expired by intimidating her younger assistant, played by Reynolds, to marry her.
"It was a lot funnier than I expected it to be," said Darin Gibbons, 23, who was invited by a friend. "I don't know if I would have chosen to go, but after seeing it, the movie was definitely entertaining. It's a good date movie and it's not overly sappy. I expected a chick flick, but it was really more of a comedy."
Matt Webber, also 23, echoed his friend's thoughts.
"I originally went because of all the Rockport scenes. It's always fun to see that. But it was actually surprisingly funny," Webber said. "Ryan Reynolds is pretty funny from a guy's perspective. I enjoyed it overall. It didn't follow the usual romance movie story line. It had a lot of twists and turns."
The film also stars Betty White, Mary Steenburgen, Malin Akerman and Craig T. Nelson.
Nick Paleologos, executive director of the Massachusetts Film Office, told the crowd of about 300 that his office is "thrilled at this picture — for a variety of reasons."
He thanked Gov, Deval Patrick and the Legislature for approving tax credits for the movie industry.
"None of this would have happened without their support and that's why pictures keep coming, and this is only the beginning," he said.
He expressed particular gratitude to the Walt Disney Company, which has shot four major films here since 2006, when the credits went into effect.
"The 'Mouse' and Massachusetts make a nice marriage," he said.
What makes "The Proposal" of particular interest, he noted, is that it has nothing to do with Massachusetts.
"That's a big deal," said Paleologos. "When Hollywood looks at a script that's not set in Boston or doesn't have a scene from the Fenway or other local spots, and yet it gets filmed here — that's big.
"We're now getting movies set in New York and Alaska," he noted. "Our reputation for film is getting bigger and better."
In 2005, one movie at $6 million was filmed in the commonwealth. In 2006, there were two projects at $61 million. In 2008, there were 13 projects at $359 million. And a number of movies are in the works in 2009 — including the Adam Sandler film, "Grown Ups," which is now being shot in Essex.
Peter Webber, the manager of the Rockport division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, gave the film high marks.
"I really enjoyed the movie," he said. "In addition to enjoying it as a movie, it was fun seeing all the Rockport scenes. There were just some postcard perfect shots of Rockport Harbor and Bearskin Neck that were quite recognizable."
Webber noted that Motif No. 1, an iconic Rockport harbor image, was prominent but transformed with a Sitka sign in place of the lobster buoys that adorn its outer wall.
Webber and others also noted the snow-capped "special effect" mountain peaks that became the background for the otherwise sea-level town of Rockport.
Ted and Deborah Barnes, owners of Freedom Diving in Gloucester, gave the film two thumbs up.
"It is a lot of fun watching it and I got to see the buoy in there that I built for the film," said Ted Barnes. "It's interesting to see how it all comes together with the props, and after all the cutting and editing is finally done."
Barnes, a native of Newfoundland, said he related to the feeling of being an immigrant in another country, but of course, in a far different manner. He has built a few props for about a half dozen films since the 1970s.
"I had some serious laughing moments," said Tobin Arsenault, vice president of the Cape Ann Marina resort, who sat with her buddies who worked on the movie. The film crew rented some boat equipment from the marina.
The Boston debut of the film also brought back memories for Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, though she said yesterday she was unable to attend the premiere screening.
She was driving to Rockport last year to speak at the Rockport Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner, having set out from Boston armed with specific driving directions. She followed them exactly, and sensed she was on the right track, right down to making the proper turn toward Dock Square, which is in the center of town.
But she confronted an unexpected sign.
"I was coming along, thought I was in the right place, and then I came to this sign that said, 'Welcome to Sitka,'" Walker related. "I thought 'Sitka'? I thought I was in Rockport. What happened to Rockport?"
Walker, however, was indeed in Rockport; She quickly realized what had happened, and was pleased to see that part of Rockport's downtown had become a virtual movie set, showing the town was serious about pursuing culture-based economic development.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org