(by Dustin Putman
"Leap Year" has harmless intentions, but, like the lead protagonist who is all too willing to give up her life and career for a man, it lacks ambition. A romantic comedy of forced situations and formulaic plotting, the film is one big foregone conclusion, made interesting only in a third act that paints its characters into a corner and then tries to find a logical way for the two quarreling, unlikely lovebirds to still end up together. Director Anand Tucker (2005's "Shopgirl") and screenwriters Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (2008's "Made of Honor") achieve this finite goal, albeit through story contrivances, while leaving a far more provocative conclusion in the dust. By the time the camera ominously looms over a rocky seaside cliff before revealing our heroine at her lowest emotional moment, standing at the edge of it, how potentially groundbreaking and genre-twisting might it have been were she to suddenly leap to her death? Generic studio filmmaking would never dare allow this to occur, mind you, but how refreshingly original and unexpectedly devastating it would be, bringing deeper meaning to the title while casting a newfound poignant light to all that has come before. Instead, alas, we get a kiss during magic hour. Article continues below
Lifelong Boston resident Anna (Amy Adams) is a Type-A personality who prides herself on getting things done. An apartment stager who assists realtors in selling properties by setting up the ideal image of well-furnished domestic bliss, she is left disappointed when cardiologist boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott) fails to pop the question to her during a dinner when she is convinced that he will. Not one to sit back and silently pout, Anna decides upon continuing a romantic Irish tradition by traveling to Dublin, where Jeremy has flown for business, and proposing to him herself on leap day February 29. The path to getting there, however, is fraught with more obstacles than you can shake a leprechaun at. When her plane makes an unscheduled landing due to bad weather and a storm-swept ride with a sailor leaves her stranded along the shores of Ireland, Anna agrees to pay small-town pub owner Declan (Matthew Goode) for a ride to her destination. A car accident, stolen luggage, missed trains, a roll in the mud, and an awkward interlude where they attend a wedding reception follow. Naturally, so do burgeoning feelings for one another.
What does Anna see in Declan over their three days together that overwrites her entire relationship with Jeremy? It's hard to say, unless she gets off on having a man incessantly criticize and talk down to her. Or, maybe the selling point is when he grabs a live chicken and nonchalantly breaks its neck in front of her. Sparring much more than getting along or learning about each other as human beings, the foundation for their ultimate romance is a weak, unconvincing one. As for the reasons the film devises at the last minute to prove to Anna that Jeremy is wrong for her, they are just as much of a stretch.
What happens in the meantime is routine road movie fodder made tolerable by good actors and lovely location shooting across scenic Ireland. None of it is hugely amusing nor greatly dramatic; the picture seems pleased settling for mediocrity—and that includes some unusually messy post-production work. An early scene's dialogue is repeated via voiceover two minutes later to reiterate the plot set-up, as if it were too complicated for viewers to understand the first time around. Later, a pointless, nonsensical stop at a wedding during Anna's rush to reach Dublin is justified through glaringly obvious offscreen ADR work that claims the priest has agreed to drive her the rest of the way after the reception. The priest is never seen or mentioned again and no reason is ever given for why they have taken this leisurely pitstop.
Charismatic enough to light up a photographer's darkroom, Amy Adams (2009's "Julie & Julia") is an intelligent actress who seems above this mundane material. Made to seem off-puttingly abrasive in the opening scenes, Adams fortunately levels off and lightens up her character of Anna quickly, playing the rest of the movie with her natural charm intact. Because of this, the viewer likes Anna, and it's a good thing; she is written as a young woman who can't make up her mind and is almost juvenile in her dream of getting engaged. As Declan, Matthew Goode (2009's "A Single Man") is also better than his role. Then again, he's had practice; his part is nearly identical to the one he portrayed in 2004's "Chasing Liberty." Come to think of it, so were the films. Appearing for a day's work in a one-scene cameo, John Lithgow (2009's "Confessions of a Shopaholic") shows up as Anna's dad long enough to introduce the premise and squeal about the thought of his daughter getting married and giving him grandchildren.
Romantic comedies don't have to reinvent the wheel, but they should adhere a tad closer to reality than "Leap Year" does. Even if Anna has chosen her dream guy by the end, she has nothing else figured out in her life (she more or less admits this herself). Thus, her character lacks a satisfying arc, the film boiling down to a rash decision and the problematic message that all a gal needs is a sparkly ring on her finger. A good love story never gets old, but this antiquated, pre-feminist point-of-view belongs in a different century.