“Leap Year”—You Might Want to Skip It

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by Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Frank Capra directed “It Happened One Night”—the archetype for filmmaker Anand Tucker’s “Leap Year”—in 1934. A smash hit starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, it has since worked its way into our romantic comedy vocabulary. Hardly a decade goes by without several so-so permutations. Consider this one 2010’s failed contribution.

Hey, but no terrible foul here. Tucker has the right idea…just nothing to add to the notion. You know the drill. Pretty Young Miss is determined to wed Mr. Stuffed Shirt. “Boo, hiss,” we catcall from the good seats. But happily, a fly in the ointment requires our gal to travel in pursuit of the bore. And on the way she meets Mr. All Wrong.

[smartads]

Yep, he’s the exact opposite of the guy she’s chasing. Inevitably better looking and a lot nicer, pity he isn’t as well heeled, or so we surmise. But he’s somehow integral to her trip, and the politics of love makes for strange bedfellows, so to speak. She’ll just have to put up with him until she reaches her destination. Of course you can take it from there.

The gambit possesses two of our favorite things: romance and travel. Alas, the latter far outshines the former this go-round. Great landscape photography poetically breathes of the storybook Old Éire we’ve long idealized. A cast of stereotypical locals quirkily complements the aura, stopping just short of including a Leprechaun or two.

Sadly, Miss Adams, who portrays Anna, is off her game. While heir apparent to the somewhat taller Doris Day by virtue of her sexy virtue, she’s unable to make us truly care about the poor misguided Miss until well into the film. The same apathy is pretty much engendered by Matthew Goode as Declan, the aforementioned anathema to her ideal.

There’s just too much wriggling and emoting, too much high relief convincing on the way to establishing their characters. The dumbed-down dialogue treats us like idiots. Both players iterate their proclivities ad nauseam. OK, we know. You’re into marrying the foppish, Boston cardiologist (Adam Scott) and Declan runs a failing pub in Ireland.

If better played, we might have even bought into the rather farfetched plot. You see, Anna and Jeremy the rich doctor have been dating for four years, yet he’s never popped the question. Hence, when Anna learns of an old custom that says a woman in Ireland can propose to her intended on that extra day during a leap year, she begins to scheme.

How convenient. It just so happens Jeremy is off to Dublin for a confab. She’ll take time off from her successful career as a real estate maven, meet up with the unsuspecting doc, and spring it on him. But naturally she erroneously winds up in the Irish countryside and meets Declan, who, for a sum, disdainfully agrees to drive her ladyship to the big city.

Expect the usual mishaps common to the typical road movie that ensues, including, but not limited to, the determined damsel sloshing through the Gaelic mud in heels. But then the film commits a rarity. After spewing just about every trite convention in the genre, it grows enamoring. It happens when they find sanctuary from the rain at an idyllic B & B.

There, in the cozy cottage run by a kindly couple, matters are sentimentally put in perspective. Status seeking Anna is suddenly less dogmatic and, out of the blue, slacker Declan is a three star chef who cooks up a feast for hosts and fellow guests. But turning point or not, Anna is still committed to this Irish variant of the Sadie Hawkins Day ploy.

So after a night replete with the usual shopworn cutesiness about who will sleep where, the journey starts anew. Yet it resumes with a fresh reality. A subtlety so lacking in the earlier portions of the film now grabs hold. And while the female lead stays the course, we suspect her reasons have changed. In turn, Declan allows a wee bit of vulnerability.

Yet while the remaining paragraphs serve as a sort of consolation prize for those of us who didn’t leave prior to the halfway mark, the experience is still more discordant than entertaining. We are more apt to puzzle over the movie’s problematics than to concern ourselves with its character motivations. But ah begorah, there is that one saving grace.

While humming the scenery is the most obvious left-handed compliment one can give a play or movie, the beautifully lush, travelogue-like backdrops director Tucker captures rate mention. A treat to the eyes, especially in light of all the digital effects we’ve been inundated with of late, “Leap Year” could very well inspire a hop to the Emerald Isle.

“Leap Year,” rated PG, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Anand Tucker and stars Amy Adams, Matthew Goode and Adam Scott. Running time: 97 minutes


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