Anna (Amy Adams) is a stager: she furnishes properties to perfection, essentially luring potential homeowners with the promise of dreams fulfilled. “Most people don’t know what they want,” she reasons, “until I show it to them.” Just so, Anna has staged her own domestic bliss, complete with a new Boston apartment for her and cardiologist boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott). The finishing touch, in her view, is marriage. But when Jeremy presents her with diamond earrings instead of a much anticipated engagement ring, Anna decides to take matters into her own hands. Jeremy is headed to Dublin, Ireland for a conference and Anna remembers a story her tipsy father (John Lithgow) conveniently told her just the night before. On 29 February, Leap Day, a woman can propose to her man in Ireland. So, off she goes, to track down Jeremy and show him what he apparently doesn’t know he wants.
As Leap Year‘s trailers have already revealed, Anna’s journey will go exactly according to rom-com conventions. Her plans are disrupted and she winds up in the West of Ireland (Dingle, to be precise) and in need of services provided by Declan (Matthew Goode), a surly, handsome pub owner. For a mere 500 Euros, the cash-strapped Declan will drive her to Dublin as well as drive her crazy. Their trek includes missteps, missed trains, and misconceptions, all leading to exactly a cute and tingly foregone conclusion.
Adams, known for her adorable wide-eyed and sweet-voiced innocence, here plays against type—to a point. Anna is quite unlikeable. She’s uptight, controlling, condescending, and not a little shallow. Since she’s our heroine, though, we extend her a little grace when she reveals the source of her personality “issues”: like Declan’s, her own father is a believer in the “It’ll all work out” approach to problems and, even though, throughout her childhood, it often didn’t work out at all. But revealing the root cause of Anna’s pushiness is not Leap Year‘s point (and besides, it’s spelled out in the second scene). Rather, the movie is determined to punish Anna for her ostensible transgressions, as she is repeatedly humiliated in her homeland, not to mention increasingly dependent on Declan in the process. Such domestication of the unruly girl is nothing new (see: 1940’s The Philadelphia Story or last year’s The Proposal). The well-heeled and pencil-skirted Ann crosses a line when she decides to propose. As she steps in cow dung and then body-surfs down a muddy mountainside, Declan observes her travails while remaining unscathed, as well as amused by Anna’s unraveling.
The film’s location in Ireland allows for the usual gorgeous and rolling green hillsides, as well as stereotypes like wool-jacketed old men in pubs and ruddy-cheeked landladies doling out Irish proverbs. In an interview, Adams notes that Ireland is “a character” in Leap Year. Indeed, the country seems to stand in for Anna’s never-mentioned mother, as everything from the weather to Irish history and culture prevent her from proposing to Jeremy. Her father is unreliable, after all, being the one who sets her off on this ridiculous journey, even as he proclaims Jeremy to be a good choice. She needs Mother Ireland to teach her how to be a woman and steer her towards the right man, to discover herself in the “natural” landscape around her—that is, she must learn to not to stage her own life.
Much like Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man, Anna must first come to terms with her own wildness and then succumb to the proper man. Despite Leap Year‘s premise on an “Irish tradition” granting women one day every four years to declare themselves, Anna isn’t really allowed to make her own marriage proposal. Like her clients back home in Boston, she must be instructed as to what she wants.