Thursday, January 14, 2010

Leap Year: Leap of faith

Leap Year (2010) • View trailer for Leap Year
Three stars (out of five). Rating: PG, for mild sensuality and milder profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.14.10
Buy DVD: Leap Year • Buy Blu-Ray: Leap Year [Blu-ray]

This film is a triumph of star talent over thin material and ham-fisted execution.

Honestly, whatever Amy Adams and Matthew Goode were paid for this limp romantic comedy, it wasn't enough. Absent their considerable charm and engaging chemistry, this tired flick wouldn't even rate release as a late-night cable original.
Every time Declan (Matthew Goode) ticks her off, or they miss one of their
travel connection -- both events sometimes occurring simultaneously -- Anna
(Amy Adams) petulantly hits the road again, rolling her Louis Vuitton suitcase
in her wake, like a misbehaving child. No matter how thin his patience wears,
Declan is too much a gentleman to let her trundle off alone, and so he follows
in her heel-clacking wake. True love must be just around the next corner, right?

But Adams, bless her heart, sparkles in every scene ... and Goode isn't far behind. Both embrace this predictable material as if it were as fresh as the Irish countryside, which offers its own radiance. The company filmed on location, and we're treated to stunning Irish vistas and picturesque countryside rambles in and around Dun Aengus, Wicklow, Dublin and  most impressively  the Aran Islands.

Too bad Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont's script can't live up to the scenery.

Worse, still, that Anand Tucker's direction  and most particularly Nick Moore's editing  don't even live up to the script.

Adams stars as perky Anna Brady, an "apartment stager" who has tired of waiting for longtime boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott, utterly unmemorable) to pop the question. Reminded of a family legend by her father (John Lithgow, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo), Anna decides to surprise Jeremy, who has flown to Dublin for a cardiologist convention, by following and proposing herself.

This is in accordance with the swooningly romantic Irish "leap year tradition" that "allows" women to take the lead.

(We'll skip the raised-eyebrow surprise at such a story emerging in the enlightened 21st century, as opposed to, say, the 1940s or '50s, when such a premise would have been much more appropriate. By now, I suspect women have been proposing to men for decades.)

Alas, bad weather forces Anna's plane into an emergency landing far short of Dublin, and she eventually winds up in a small-town Irish bar/hotel run by Declan (Goode), a mildly surly bloke who is quite amused by this prissy, displaced American. They eventually negotiate a fee for his driving her to Dublin, and set off on a road journey destined to be fraught with complications and missed connections, some of them far more contrived than funny.

Indeed, this film's early scenes are clumsy enough to be off-putting. Anna's attempt to re-charge her BlackBerry, late the first night, would have been amusing enough when an ill-fitting charger blows the power grid in this entire hamlet; was it absolutely necessary for her to trash her room as well, by blundering about like a bull in a china shop?

Tucker, Kaplan and Elfont clearly are trying for the oil-and-vinegar romantic sparks that have been a cinematic tradition ever since Clark Gable and Claudette Cobert hit the road in 1934's It Happened One Night. (Wishful thinking, right?) In fairness, though, while the set-up and prologue will prompt rolled eyes, things improve considerably once Anna and Declan do hit the road.

At that point, Adams, Goode and the Irish countryside work their respective magic. Anna begins to loosen up, and Declan sheds a bit of his gruffness; both eventually reveal  to each other, and to us  dissatisfaction over personal events past and present. Anna increasingly questions her devotion to a boyfriend who treats her like an apartment fixture, while Declan eventually admits the origin of his hostility toward Dublin.

Mostly, though, the sniping repartee draws its sparkle from the cultural divide: Anna's big-city American snootiness versus Declan's aw-shucks Irish country charm. Anna talks around issues  a very American trait  while Declan cuts to the core with probing, sharp-edged comments and questions. She speaks pridefully of her stupidly expensive shoes, wardrobe and luggage; he stares, aghast, and prays for strength.

Then, too, we never tire of watching Anna petulantly stalk off in a fresh huff, clicking her impractical heels down another rugged country road, rolling her Louis Vuitton suitcase behind her. (In a cute running gag, Declan names the bag "Louis" and treats it like a wayward puppy.)

I suppose one could become annoyed by the fact that this is yet another story about a misguided woman who blossoms only after meeting the right man. While it's true that Anna "improves" Declan a bit, he changes her a whole lot more. But any thoughts of unbalanced sexism are buried beneath Adams' performance; we never lose our ability to understand and sympathize with Anna.

Adams' impeccably timed line delivery has much to do with that, but she's also superb with the subtler stuff. Watch her expression, after gentle joshing at a B&B forces a kiss between Anna and Declan (who, for propriety's sake at this particular inn, are pretending to be married). In a few quick seconds, once the kiss concludes, Adams display an entire range of emotions, many of them conveyed by the movement of her eyes.

Goode is equally gifted, when it comes to subtly shading Declan; his easygoing grin and somewhat shambling gait amplify the beguiling twinkle behind Goode's equally accomplished comic timing. Such small moments may not be noticed individually, but their multiplicity brings charm and credibility to their characters, and to their shared journey.


Every time we start to relax and enjoy the film, its director and editor sabotage Adams and Goode's considerable efforts. I've rarely seen a movie edited so ineptly, with a given scene quite jarringly cut to another that seems pages beyond, as if stuff in between got left behind. And this doesn't happen just once; it's relentless.

The worst example comes early, during Anna's brief meeting with her father in a bar. The scene ends so abruptly, and fades to black so inappropriately, that I was reminded of the wall-mounted meters that controlled the power in post-WWII British apartments. If you failed to pop enough coins in, the lights would simply go out at random moments.

One wonders if Tucker  an infrequent director who waited seven years, after the well-deserved praise for 1998's Hilary and Jackie, before helming 2005's Shopgirl  lost control of his film. Nothing in his career suggests an affinity for the tone required of a gentle romantic comedy, and Leap Year unspools with the awkwardness of a film that endured eleventh-hour cutting by other hands.

Concentrate, then, on the fine work by Adams and Goode; indulge in the Irish countryside.

And try to overlook the other stuff.

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