No Luck Among the Irish: Amy Adams is trapped in the land of blarney, cow pies and forced humiliation

Leap Year

Leap Year
Directed by Anand Tucker.
Written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan.
Starring Amy Adams, Adam Scott, John Lithgow and Matthew Goode.
Opens Friday, January 8, at multiple locations.

Is this a commercial for the National Tourism Council of Ireland or for the conditioner Amy Adams uses in her hair? Either way, both look fabulous. Then there's the movie, a soggy affair directed with no great enthusiasm by Anand Tucker. Leap Year draws its dubious premise from a supposed Irish custom in which women may propose to their reluctant fiancés on February 29. The woman is Anna (Adams), a Boston apartment stager, and her intended fiancé, Jeremy (Adam Scott), is a surgeon more in love with his BlackBerry than her. They've found the perfect co-op and they look perfect together, yet after four years, he just won't pull the Tiffany trigger. What's a girl to do?

The surgeon has flown to a medical conference in Dublin, which neatly coincides with leap day, so Anna packs her wheeled Louis Vuitton luggage to ambush him on the fated date. Needless to say, things don't go as planned.

Leap Year belongs to the strange subgenre of women's pictures in which smart, stylish women must be muddied, abased, ridiculed, and degraded in order to get their man. (Having earned some $163 million, The Proposal guarantees that more will surely follow.) It's the Prada backlash, a comeuppance to have-it-all feminism. That Adams's romantic ordeal takes her to Ireland means she'll be tested with: 1) mud, 2) rain, 3) manure, and 4) Matthew Goode, as the oafish innkeeper near the beach where she washes ashore. Anna's only got two days to reach Dublin to propose! Who will drive her there (and drive her crazy along the way)? You can write Leap Year's opposites-attract itinerary yourself.

Goode embraces his grinningly cretinous role without hesitation. His Declan is a thousand vulgar miles removed from Colin Firth's clean-cut boyfriend in A Single Man, a lowbrow retort to his posh breakthrough roles in Match Point and Brideshead Revisited. But, absent a good script, there's only so much that chin stubble and talking with a mouth full of food can accomplish. Thanks to co-writers Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (Made of Honor), Declan is more a collection of tics and hurts than a real character. (Upon arrival, Anna immediately uncovers a photo hinting at past heartbreak; he's a man in need of healing, a project like the apartments she prepares for sale.)

Nor can Adams's considerable reservoir of goodwill (Junebug, Enchanted, etc.) bring depth to stereotype. Manless, desperate, and forever in heels, she teeters through the picture like a manicured nail waiting to break. Cow pies, brogue, and catastrophe are drawn to her, yet, like Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, she remains a trooper, besmirched yet smiling through every indignity. In one long pratfall, she destroys a hotel room while attempting to charge her failing cell phone; she is Carrie Bradshaw stuck amid the Three Stooges. That our heroine comes across as a control freak is attributed to her charming, irresponsible father (five minutes of John Lithgow is quite enough), who set a pattern of Men to Avoid. Men like Declan. Sigh.

Only in its calmer, domestic interludes — cooking, sleeping, chicken-neck-wringing — does Leap Year treat its stars generously. Tucker (Shopgirl) has no feel for the momentum necessary in a road-trip movie where, at its midpoint, he stages the least convincing bar fight in screen history. Though in fairness, Goode is hardly a convincing brawler; he's far too goofy to be a Clark Gable–style scoundrel, as the script would seem to require.

In more ways than one, the Elfont-Kaplan screenplay rehashes 1930s Hollywood convention, hoping to be It Happened One Night in Ireland. (Oh, no! There's only one bed left at the B&B!) The PG rating and absence of real sexual desire are curiously retrograde, as if the picture were designed for that huge mother-daughter matinee market, ahem. (Trust me: Your mom would rather see It's Complicated, a greatly superior rom-com that offers women pleasure, not humiliation.) But back during the '30s, Claudette Colbert and Rosalind Russell were allowed to be clever, capable, and competent. The term "women's picture" wasn't a putdown.

Though, honestly, Leap Year is too mediocre to be taken as an insult. It just registers as cheap imitation — a plastic shamrock of a movie.

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