Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leap Year Review

Leap Year, the new romantic comedy with Amy Adams and Matthew Goode provided many many things that I expected it to: silly comedy, an improbable plot, a contrived story, an all around forgettable experience and so on. And then it did one thing I never expected: It involved, as mainstream romantic comedies so rarely do, real people with real dimensions and not just broad generalizations of comic caricatures. Not the leads, not the support, and not even the old Irish bed and breakfast owners and their Italian borders. The film may go for easy laughs, but it avoids all the potential for cheap, lazy ones. That’s a quality both refreshing and unexpected in this kind of film. The story itself may be pure fairytale, but it still somehow manages to exist in a real world. These characters are not just the creation of some scriptwriter who needs a laugh or a way to connect plot points as romantic comedy characters so often are. This lends an air of authenticity to the whole project up to the point where, against all reasonable and logical odds, you actually care what will happen to these people as they travel the Irish countryside because they seem to grow together on their own terms. What more could one ask for? The story involves Anna (Adams) who has etched out a career in decorating houses with furniture and other such nick-knacks so that they look nice to potential buyers, until the deal is made at which point she packs up her stuff and moves on to the next project. She’s essentially a highly paid con artist.
After being given a pair of earrings over dinner by her surgeon boyfriend of four years when she was expecting a ring and a proposal, Anna is crushed. Jeremy, the doctor, then flies off to Dublin for a medical convention leaving Anna back home to be reminded of an old Irish tradition that states, on the eve of a leap year, a woman can propose to a man. I don’t know. It seems to me that if you need to chase a man around the globe for his love, maybe he isn’t worth the effort in the first place. Regardless, as Anna’s luck would have it, the leap year just so happens to be coming up in a few days. However, as these things must, bad weather forces Anna’s plane to land in a small Irish town situated hours from Dublin. She seeks out a taxi driver named Declan (Goode) who also doubles as the pub and hotel owner. It’s the kind of place where the same two or three customers haunt the stools every day like the ghosts of lives gone by. Declan initially rejects Anna’s need for a ride, until the possibility of losing the pub leaves him needing cash and without options. Predictably, the journey is not a nice one as Anna and Declan have a clash of personalities. She’s prim and proper and used to being in complete control of herself and he’s rough, unshaven, thinks the whole leap year legend is a bunch of bollocks and decides she must be crazy for naming her bag Louis (apparently Louis Vuitton isn’t big around the Irish countryside). This is a plot almost as old as the cinema itself, or at least since Spender Tracy and Katherine Hepburn made it popular so many decades ago. The story of a man and a woman of completely different backgrounds being forced together under unlikely circumstances, hating each other and then slowly growing to love each other as they talk like civilized people and begin to accept the others’ company. The film then must rely heavily on the presence of its stars, as half the fun of films like this is in seeing how new actors drop themselves into familiar material and transform it to suit their own personality. It’s also the ultimate testament to great acting in seeing a star being able to turn virtually nothing into something that even mildly shows signs of life. It’s no surprise that Amy Adams can pull a feat like that. She’s so unapologetically lovely, so chipper and yet so classy that she’s always a pleasure to be in the company of. Here is a woman who makes even the worst of films seem better than they have any right to be. Then there is Matthew Goode who is a real discovery. He’s starred in dramatic and intelligent fare in the past such as Brideshead Revisited and Watchmen but here he proves to have a real comic presence. He is as rugged and handsome as fellow U.K. star Gerard Butler, but has a lot more charm, depth and a better ear for comedy as he steals most of the films funniest lines. And then there’s the inevitable ending, which is as contrived as it is unlikely, and raises many logical questions that it has no intention of addressing. But by that point Adams and Goode have worked their charm and we can buy them as a legitimate couple, which we actually hope they will become. In my review for last year’s The Proposal I gave a positive rating but made sure to imply that it was simply out of desperation: the world has been subjected to so many horrible mainstream romantic comedies that sometimes feel strained to even fly by on autopilot that it was inspiring to see one with even the faintest sings of life. Now here is Leap Year, which follows the same kind of story headfirst into the same kinds of directions and I recommend it open-heartedly for all the same reasons but also because it is nicer, sweeter and more human.

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