Leap Year is like most relationships: You keep waiting for it to get better, until you finally accept that it won’t. Whether to leave or stay then is up to the viewer, but at 97 (mostly) harmless minutes you might as well stick around. A young Boston career woman (Amy Adams) finds the perfect apartment to share with her won’t-propose beau, a cardiologist who’d rather tend to patients in Ireland than be with her. Looking online, she finds out about a venerable Irish tradition in which, on February 29th, women are allowed to propose to men. So she follows him. Upon arriving in a bucolic little sheep town, she finds a handsome, scruffy local escort (Matthew Goode) to take her to Dublin. Eventually she realizes that she’s chasing the wrong man.
The plot is bone-tired, the compositions slack, the soundtrack largely consists of stupid smooth jazz, and the best running joke involves Goode’s ignorance of Louis Vuitton. Like most relationships, though, Leap Year is fun if taken on its own terms. People keep telling each other what they are in this movie (“You’re a cynic.” “It’s better than being an eejit”), but the appealing performers transcend the name-calling. Adams’s character has no redeeming qualities outside of the actress playing her, though that’s enough: Adams does her typical wide-eyed/open-mouthed/flustered thing, and as usual it’s quite charming. Goode is a minor revelation; from the first time we see him, washing glasses behind a pub’s bar top (looks like a set), he assays the joy of living in a generally forward-perched, oft-angled slim body. He doesn’t walk so much as bounce, smoothly jiggling every part with each move, projecting the ambling ease and sexual confidence of a Bogart or of a young Robert Ryan, minus the authentic, lived-in toughness but with more of a silken sheen. A big reason movie couples rarely generate chemistry any more is that the lovers aren’t allowed to actually act opposite each other (each person trapped in his or her one-shot has nothing to spark against), and though director Anand Tucker falls prey to the back-and-forth contemporary cutting fallacy, he lets his characters share space more often than most current movies would.
The frame fills up with nincompoop situations, though: There isn’t a bus or train these two can’t miss, a ditch they can’t fall into, a musical montage they can’t avoid. Throughout, the director shows no feeling for landscape. A key feature of people-falling-in-love-with-the-land-and-with-each-other movies is a place felt richly enough to convincingly release the uptight protagonist; think of shoulder-padded Wendy Hiller glimpsing the céilidh dance in I Know Where I’m Going!, or stuffy American businessman Peter Riegert blissfully drunk on a starlit beach in Local Hero. By contrast, Leap Year’s idea of a pretty picture shows its heroes gazing off into the distance in front of CGI clouds. The movie’s view of Ireland is pure postcard, and the jaunt through it’s less compelling as a result.
Yet Tucker, who’s previously handled intimate character-driven films (Shopgirl, Hilary and Jackie), does have a visual sense. He excels at poignant, stand-alone little moments of loneliness: Two people in perfect lockstep, each face planted in a separate mobile device; a man fully clothed lying in bed next to a woman, blinking as he realizes that he can’t fall asleep; a woman turning to call to her love, only to watch two closing see-through glass doors. Half-second bits like these are breathtaking, but then the movie gets back to its plot.