Rom-Coms Return With a 'Leap'
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
January is the cutest month. Every year at this time, cute boys and cute girls fall in love at the movies, while, in real life, the rest of us are shoveling snow and wasting money on gym memberships. Dumping mediocre (or awful) girlie movies on us in this month has become such a studio tradition that to complain about it now seems like grumbling about horror movies coming out around Halloween. In 2010, "Leap Year" is the first rom-com out of the gate, but expect a steady diet of about one a week through that heart-oriented event in February, when the granddaddy of romantic comedy, Garry Marshall, premieres "Valentine's Day," starring everybody, their mother and Julia Roberts.
"Leap Year" is a sweet little movie, although so by the books that it doesn't exactly distinguish itself, except with an Irish countryside setting that makes you want to go buy yourself a white fisherman's sweater and stand in the rain, hoping for Matthew Goode to show up. Amy Adams is Anna, an upwardly mobile, hard-working New Yorker. She stages apartments for open houses, wears sexy little professional ensembles, and is hell-bent on getting into the right exclusive apartment building with her boyfriend, Jeremy (Adam Scott), a surgeon who always seems to be talking someone through a heart transplant on the phone.
Anna is hopeful that Jeremy will propose soon. We're pretty sure he won't, although I'm not sure the conclusion I jumped to about why not -- gay, gay and more gay! (not that there is anything wrong with that) -- is the seed the writers or director Anand Tucker ("Shopgirl," "Hilary and Jackie") had hoped to plant. When Jeremy blows it on Valentine's Day and then heads off to a convention in Dublin, Anna's drunk dad (John Lithgow) reminds her of the Irish tradition. In Ireland, apparently, women are allowed to propose to men on Feb. 29. Which is really gracious of the leprechauns, don't you think? I tried very hard not to judge Anna for her retro-belief that she has to leave America in order to propose, and, even then, only on Leap Year. But, then again, her target is Jeremy, and he does seem like something of a traditionalist, dubious straightness aside. I did, however, judge her for traveling in high heels and never changing out of them even when various weather disasters started befalling in her in the British Isles. Was there nothing sensible in her Louis Vuitton bag (a gift from Jeremy)?
She's diverted to a small seaside town near Cork, where she meets Declan (Goode), the proprietor of a rapidly failing bar and B&B, and, after some slapstick, persuades him to drive her to Dublin. Declan is moody and surly and so desperate for cash that he charges her essentially trans-Atlantic airfare for what should be a half-day's drive. All of this can be put aside because he is played by Goode. Goode is hardly challenged by the role (check him out in "The Lookout" to see his full range, or his last film, "A Single Man," in which he appears briefly, convincingly and prettily as Colin Firth's lost lover), but he more than capably fulfills the cute requirements of the season. Adams is also playing below her capabilities, or, rather, against her strengths, which is to play weird sweet, not normal sweet. But the two of them have decent chemistry, and it's pleasant enough to watch the two of them sparring and bickering in the Irish countryside.
But movies about sparring couples in the rolling green hills tend to blend together into a bland, sure-and-begorra tinged sweetness (some old gent is always sucking on his pipe or falling off his barstool). This one bears a strong resemblance to "The Matchmaker," a 1997 film starring Janeane Garofalo, and also to the recent, much lesser sapfest "P.S. I Love You," in which Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler romped through the peat. I'd say no one seems capable of making a great movie about an American falling in love in Ireland, if it weren't for John Ford's 1952 classic "The Quiet Man." John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara as a couple? Now they were sexy, which, when it comes to romances, is preferable to cute, any month of the year.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/HarperCollins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.