This Eire-set romantic comedy is so awash in Irish cliches that it should have been shot through an emerald green lens. But the cliches aren’t limited to the national ones. “Leap Year” mechanically follows the all-too-familiar road-movie path established by “It Happened One Night” seventy-five years ago, in which an initially hostile couple bicker their way to love when thrown together on an unlikely journey. But this time the trip takes them through a gorgeous Gaelic countryside filled with impishly colorful characters speaking in thick brogue. The scenery is beautiful and the stars are ingratiating, but while more palatable than many rom-coms, the movie is basically the same old blarney in a pretty package.
The premise is dumb, even for a Hollywood rom-com. Amy Adams plays Anna, one of those workaholic New Yorkers (she’s a real-estate “stager,” who has a knack for arranging apartments to facilitate a sale) who’s anxious for her long-time boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott), a brilliant cardiologist, to propose. When he goes off to Dublin for a medical conference, she decides to follow him in order to take advantage of an Irish custom that permits women to propose to men, rather than the other way around, every February 29. Naturally her trip goes awry—bad weather—and she winds up in a coastal town so caught in the past that it almost seems like the Irish version of Brigadoon. After some preliminary slapstick establishing the animosity between her and Declan (Matthew Goode), the scruffily handsome but smart-alecky owner of the local pub, he agrees to drive her to Dublin to earn the money he needs to keep a creditor from foreclosing on his place.
You know the drill. The duo confront all sorts of obstacles—cows in the road, a wrecked car, missed trains, luggage thieves, bar fights—on their way to the Irish capital. But the important thing is the slow blossoming of their relationship. The centerpiece is their stay at a remote bed-and-breakfast where they have to pretend to be married and share a bed. (Here the homage to Capra’s model is at its most obvious, with a shower curtain standing in for the famous bed sheet.) It accelerates the melting of Anna’s brusque, no-nonsense exterior while revealing the obligatory secret behind Declan’s cynical outlook. Naturally there’s a final roadblock to their getting together when they finally reach Dublin—and Jeremy—but though Anne goes back to America with the doctor, we know that’s but a brief hiccup on the way to the inevitable finale. (After all, casting a snarky fellow like Scott as the boyfriend is a dead giveaway that he’s going to lose her in the end.)
All of which comes across as one of those cinematic trips in which every stop is carefully predetermined, even if the characters must act surprised by them. And the direction by Anand Tucker lacks the zip that might hide the script’s structural woes. Adams, moreover, though a naturally pleasant presence, doesn’t have quite the charisma to redeem the material. Perhaps the strain of moving from supporting player to rom-com lead has become too much for her, but she plays things much too archly in the first act—we can actually sympathize with Jeremy for putting off a proposal, and understand why the priest beside her on the plane falls asleep during her incessant prattling.; and when she does soften, she becomes curiously anonymous. Goode, however, impresses. The actor, who’s often been stiff in his past roles, seems liberated by the chance to cut loose, and becomes a more boyishly handsome version of the kind of virile, blustery characters played by Gerard Butler, with some genuine charm. He actually deserves comparison to Gable, though he’s not there yet.
In support are a bunch of Irish character actors, all of whom deliver the goods, as cutesy and obvious as those goods might be. One must deplore, however, the total waste of John Lithgow, who has exactly one poorly-written scene near the start as Anna’s father, who outlines the whole leap year proposal nonsense (an insult that’s accentuated later on, when his words are repeated as a voiceover, presumably to remind total dullards in the audience of the plot premise). Oddly, half of his scene is shot with the rear of his head in center screen; it looks so bad that one might surmise a stand-in was being used. But perhaps Lithgow just wanted his face to be shown as little as possible. (One can understand why.)
Of course, you can enjoy “Leap Year” simply for the Irish locations, which are in fact nicely shot in widescreen by cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel—the national tourist board should be very pleased, when even Dublin is made to look like an absolute paradise (cue that flock of photogenic birds!). And Adams and Goode are likable companions. But for the sake of the scenery and the stars, you’ll have to put up with a prefabricated plot, cardboard characters, a lot of clunky dialogue, and more Irish caricatures than you can swat with a shillelagh.