Ireland Is for Lovers

01/08/2010 4:00 AM |

Leap Year
Directed by Anand Tucker

There are precious few moments in Leap Year when we aren’t completely sure what will happen, and it ultimately relies on well-worn national stereotypes and tools of the rom-com trade to ferry Anna (Amy Adams) out of her control-freak shell and into the arms of the appropriate masculine archetype. To be fair, for much of her journey it’s unclear who she’ll pick: the equally anal retentive young doctor Jeremy (Adam Scott) she’s been with for four years (which is apparently do or die time for marriage proposals); or the rough-mannered Irish pub proprietor Declan (Matthew Goode). Anna resolves to follow Jeremy to a conference in Dublin and surprise him by proposing on February 29th, which, according to an Irish superstition helpfully explained by John Lithgow during his one-minute cameo as Anna’s father, is the only date on which women can propose.

Though the film makes passing reference to feminism, the idea that it’s only permissible for a woman to propose to a man on one day every four years is never examined very closely or critically. The fact that in the end Anna’s more modest and realistic proposal is rejected, and that she then accepts a disappointingly conventional one made by a man, is all the more grating.

In keeping with Leap Year‘s two-dimensional conceptions of identity and experience, notions that Ireland is anything other than a postcard-ready country of castles, pubs, inns, rolling hills, verdant valleys and charming old drunks set to fiddle music, or that Americans are much more than status-obsessed yet fundamentally unhappy yuppies are taken for granted from the start. Crossing the Atlantic becomes tantamount to trading in Anna’s suited, metrosexual boyfriend for a more primal, plaid-clad, macho man. America is frigid, glassy and shiny; Ireland is earthy, warm and sensual.

Anna, a Bostonian with humble Irish roots who peddles American dreams by staging condos for prospective home-buyers, struggles to reconcile these estranged but stable cultural values: She craves all the same markers of upper-middle-class status and success that she displays for her clients, but in the most intense of her emotional crises she’s reminded just how fundamentally empty and illusory they can be. Earlier, when Declan calls her a con artist, he not only ridicules her way of making a living, but also undermines the value system that she’s let take control of her life. When her trip to Dublin takes several disastrous turns, tumbles and crashes, she hires Declan to drive her from countryside to city, and over the course of the ensuing journey a series of hardships and love tests cause them to, you know, fall for each other despite initial antagonism. The execution of these tests and trials varies from preposterous—a shoe-throwing incident at a wedding the duo crashes—to pleasantly predictable—a marriage performance taken right out of The 39 Steps in order to secure lodgings at a bed and breakfast.

Screenwriting couple Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont orchestrate an impressive number of ordeals for the traveling pair, all of which, squeezed into a little over an hour and a half, give Leap Year a jumpy, episodic structure that never quite finds its rhythm. Some sequences end abruptly while others seem to go on much longer than needed, and certain great scenes (like a lakeside near-kiss silhouetted by moonlight) come out of nowhere and end just as suddenly. Though Anand Tucker musters fleeting shades of the rich chemistry and dynamism of classic screwball romance—there are hints of Ingrid Bergman in Adams’s charmingly headstrong coquette—he mostly follows established forms obediently and with very little imagination. In the end, this is the sort of serviceable but unremarkable romantic comedy that comes around much more often than every four years.