The stars of romantic comedies used to be better than they are now at pretending that they don’t like each other. In a movie like It Happened One Night (1934), Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert gave such good antagonism that you just knew they were meant to be together. The bickering wasn’t petty; it was proof that they had the sparky toughness — the ego — for love. In Leap Year, Amy Adams plays Anna, a real estate exhibitor who chases her mealy cardiologist boyfriend (Adam Scott) all the way to Ireland to propose to him on leap-year day (an old Irish custom). Matthew Goode is Declan, the tall, faraway-eyed scruffy-dreamboat Irish bartender who, for 500 euros, agrees to shepherd Anna to Dublin. The two spend the movie roving through the countryside, from pubs to inns to old castles to crashed weddings, working their way through various levels of annoyance, class warfare, and petulant erotic tension.
The director, Anand Tucker (Shopgirl), leaves things relatively uncluttered, which I appreciated. At the same time, I could have put that less generously — as in, not very much surprising happens. Tucker keeps the emerald travelogue images crisp and clean and the emotions modest, so that the entire movie hinges, more or less, on the charming/ cantankerous love-hate tangles of its dueling stars. If the young Ann-Margret had been allowed to wiggle her brain as much as her bod, she might have come off something like Amy Adams. Is there an actress today who can suffuse a single scene with so many infectious mood swings? As Anna, she’s fiery and vulnerable, wistful and exuberant; she lends a rare dignity to the portrayal of a woman who doesn’t know what she wants.
Anna believes she’s going to sweep herself into happiness with her leap-year proposal, but Declan sees her grand folly, and also her designer-luggage pretensions. Goode, a deft but recessive actor (he’s Colin Firth’s lover-in-flashback in A Single Man), is an expert at soft-pedaled contempt. As Declan lets his guard down, though, the film’s appealing tart-tongued fluffiness starts to flatten out. Leap Year could have used more pizzazz. Yet you’re never in doubt that these two like each ? other — or, just as important, that they don’t. B-