A film review by Craig J. Koban January 12, 2010


2010, PG-13, 97 mins.


Anna: Amy Adams / Declan: Matthew Goode / Jeremy: Adam Scott / Jack: John Lithgow

Directed by Anand Tucker / Written by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont.

LEAP YEAR is a new romantic comedy that regrettably spends most of its time spinning its wheels by leaping from one insincere, manufactured, predictable, and falsely emotional beat to the next.  What’s worse is that it's yet another in a painfully long list of recent romcoms that display a certain level of condemnation towards their very own target demographic: female viewers.  Here’s a movie where the secure, intelligent, independent minded, and financially well off female protagonist is essentially emotionally damaged goods until some oafish, chauvinistic, and ill mannered man shows her the real path to lifelong love and emotional security. 

Am I the only viewer that finds this latently offensive? 

LEAP YEAR also perpetuates other undesirably lame stereotypes about career businesswomen: They are smart, stylish, cultured and refined, but when taken out of their big city element, they are clumsy and inept simpletons.  These are women that feel that the only thing that will make their lives complete is a marriage proposal and the perfect rock on their finger.  Are uber-successful and self-actualized women really like this?  I dunno.  It seems that LEAP YEAR presents a portrait of one woman where the instant she so much as sniffs the possibility of nuptials and wedding cake she turns into a fiercely needy, frothing-at-the-mouth fanatic that seems blinded by the exciting possibilities.  

I think that’s one of the large reasons why LEAP YEAR does not work successfully as a romcom.  The best ones present viewers with likeable, charming, and sympathetic female (and male) characters that we develop a rooting interest for: Through the film’s plot we really want to see the female and male leads end up together.  It’s not so bad if a romcom’s trajectory can be seen from one obligatory plot point to the next with stunning unavoidability, but it is a wasted effort when you find yourself seeing the female protagonist as a self-centered and ultimately shallow creation.  If you don’t like her by reel one, then you most likely will resist the rest of the film’s attempts to make you identify with her and aspire for her romantic dreams.  

LEAP YEAR presents an annoying example of the uptight female control freak that I have been describing in the form of Anna (Amy Adams), who has a very prestigious job as a “stager,” or one that decorates condos in order to lure buyers and secure a decent sale.  While she is not fruitfully completely one job assignment to the next Anna is desperately attempting to secure a very coveted spot at a high-end condo community that has the toughest of requisites for ownership.  Beyond her petty and self-absorbed materialistic needs, she also clamors for the day when her long-term boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott) will propose to her and fulfill her complete Cinderella aspirations.  There is one evening that she feels will be the “big night” where Jeremy will indeed pop the question (she is so sure that she begins to practice her “surprise” face), but she is dreadfully disappointed when the box that he gives her over dinner is “just” a pair twin diamond stud earrings.  Now, to most women the gift itself would have been a thoughtful and wonderful thing, but to the trivial neediness of Anna, this is like a social dagger to her heart. 

For reasons conveniently staged, Jeremy is whisked away to a doctor’s conference in Dublin, and he abruptly leaves before Anna has an opportunity to confront him regarding his lack of a wedding proposal.  Feeling that she has hit emotional rock bottom, she seeks some solace by meeting her father (John Lithgow, very good in a disagreeably short cameo), that gives her a piece of advice:  He reveals to her that there is an ol’ Irish tradition that allows a woman in Ireland to - hold the phone – propose to the man on leap year!  At first she scoffs at the idea of the myth, but the more she thinks about it the more serious and obsessed she becomes.  

Faster than you can say “Gobshite,” Anna decides to immediately depart for Ireland, especially with February 29 looming very quickly on the horizon.  Unfortunately for her, her flight to Dublin is forced to make an emergency landing because of some fierce turbulence and she is quickly diverted to Cardiff.  While there she miraculously (don’t ask how) hires a boat to take her to Cork, but only manages to make it to the Dingle Peninsula.  While there she comes to a shabby little inn run by a man named Declan (Matthew Goode) that gives her a momentary place of R&R while she plans her next move.  After she literally blacks out the entire village by trying to charge her blackberry with an improper plug attachment, she is confronted by the incredulous Declan and offers him a deal: she will pay him handsomely if he will drive her cross-country in order for her to hook up with her boyfriend by the 29th so that she can propose to him.  He hesitantly agrees and while the pair travel together and go on a series of wacky and offbeat adventures, they begin to unexpectedly bond in highly expected ways. 

The misadventures that Declan and Anna go on – not to mention the culture shock of the big city chick running amok in the pastoral countryside of Ireland – is supposed to make us uproariously laugh, but the laughs are barely chuckles here largely because of the ham-infestedly artificial ways that LEAP YEAR tries to create slapstick sight gags.  Oh, what a hoot it is to see a upper class sophisticate run around in her $600 high heel shoes, designer clothes and luggage as she is humiliated by the harsh natural terrain and elements of a foreign land.  This also presents lamentable scenes where the great Amy Adams is forced to step in animal poop, fall down rain-drenched hill sides, and throw up on people all in an effort to make her wedding day a reality.  

Exasperating matters more is the notion that the film’s script – from the onset – never made me believe that this woman would fall for the grungy, unrefined, and vulgar Declan (other than the fact that he is played by the handsome Goode, even though he is adorned in ratty and baggy clothes and a thick and scattered beard).  I have no problem with love overcoming all odds endings in romcoms: When I am fond of the characters enough, their foreseeable courtship can override all clichés and conventions in the script.  Yet, there is very little passion or underlining sexual tension between these two people, not to mention much development at all as for the reasons why Anna would dump her very pleasant and worthy suitor in Jeremy.  

Oh wait, Declan has a secret, hidden pain from his romantic past that helps Anna open up to him, but not enough to even modestly or believably allow for her complete falling for him.   And – sigh – Jeremy reveals himself (during one late scene involving a bit of disposable, throwaway dialogue) to be an unsympathetic lout without much of a tangible desire to wed Anna.  I absolutely loathe it when romcoms introduce the female protagonist’s boyfriend (initially as a nice, pleasant, handsome, and confident persona) and then – for matters of expediently manipulating the plot – decide to cheaply make him a figure of contempt in order to allow for us to hate him and root on the other male protagonist in his pursuit to woe his woman.  When will Hollywood realize that this is the stalest of all the rom com clichés?  Wouldn’t a far more compelling and involving romcom be one where both of the potential male suitors are presented in an equally gratifying light, which would make it that much more intoxicating to see which one the female will decide to be with?  

If LEAP YEAR is any indication…guess not. 

Alas, the film is never interested in bucking the conventions or trends of the genre like, say, last year’s miraculously inventive (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, which achieved the seemingly unattainable of subverting the romcom formula that LEAP YEAR more than slavishly adheres to.  (500) DAYS OF SUMMER was a film that felt sincere and oftentimes brutally harsh when it came to encapsulating the mindset of a person traversing in and out of love.  In LEAP YEAR we have no demonstration of genuine human behaviour or truth; rather, we get limitlessly attractive and amiable lead actors that sorrowfully trudge their way through one infantile, silly, and archaic plot development after another, towards the mind-numbingly predictable final act.  My best compliment that I will pay the film is that Goode and Adams are very sharp and assured actors that do what they can with the material: Goode (as he has displayed in films like WATCHMEN, THE LOOKOUT, and MATCH POINT) is capable of being a very deft chameleon as a performer and Adams has a glowing and natural radiance, a genuineness, and an innate likeability that helps her performance rise above stereotype.  I like looking at these two on screen together, but just not in this forgettable and innovation-free romcom.  

And how about paying more respect to women in these films?  I have an idea for a romcom: An underdog male suitor has to convince the modern, staunchly independent, and empowered female character why old-fashioned values of love and marriage are relevant and worth it.  Wouldn’t that give female viewers something to identify with more than just crude and paper-thin portrait of female roles that are fraught with cartoonishly backward minded ideals of "all I need is a man to be complete?"  

Think about it Hollywood.

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