Thursday, February 25, 2010

Romantic Comedy -- Leap Year

I still seem to have no brain power for anything other than the current book, which is good in a way because it means the book is progressing. I'm finally up to a scene I've been daydreaming about/picturing for a while, and after writing/rewriting the previous scene, now I know what's really been going on behind the scenes in this scene. I always pictured a particular character being there, but now I know why he's there. It's very cool.

So, I'm going to continue using some posts on romantic comedy movies I wrote with the idea of doing a series around Valentine's Day. There was a blurb in the newspaper this morning about how the leading man in the movie Leap Year is now talking about how he didn't like the movie and just did it because it was filmed close to home. I did like that movie, though I thought it could have been better, given what they had to work with. Here are my thoughts:

First, the plot: Anna (Amy Adams) seems to have the perfect life -- a glamorous job and a doctor boyfriend with whom she's getting the perfect apartment. When she finds out her boyfriend was seen coming out of a jewelry store just before they have a big dinner date planned, she's sure he's going to propose. It turns out to be earrings, and she swallows her disappointment as he heads off to a medical conference in Dublin. But then she remembers an old family story about how her grandparents got together and researches an Irish tradition that women are allowed to propose to their boyfriends on Leap Day. On impulse she heads off to Dublin to surprise her boyfriend and propose to him. Unfortunately, there's a huge storm that redirects her flight to Cardiff, where she can't get another flight or a ferry. Undeterred, she hitches a ride on a fishing boat and ends up on the wrong end of Ireland, in a village with no public transportation, and the "taxi service" is an old car driven by Declan, the pub's surly owner. Disasters ensue on the mad dash across Ireland to make it to Dublin by February 29, but those disasters draw Anna and Declan closer together in spite of their initial hostility.

A lot of the criticism of this movie has focused on the plot gimmick. After all, what's to stop her from proposing at any place or time? Why does it have to be on Leap Day according to an old tradition? I have to admit that I'm something of a traditionalist in that respect. If I ever get married, the man will have to propose to me (though I would hope it's something we've discussed already). I think I'd worry that if I had to be the one to propose that he wasn't really that interested in marriage. I don't even think the Leap Day loophole would work for me. However, I think it made sense in the context, since it seemed like she was having nagging doubts already and it was a family story, so she was hoping that things would work out for her like they did for her grandparents. Even though things seemed to be going perfectly for her, I got the feeling that this was almost a superstitious, last-ditch effort, though I think they could have played that up a little more.

But what I found a lot of fun was that, intentionally or otherwise, they subverted a lot of romantic comedy tropes. I've mocked the tendency for all of these films to end with the desperate race to reach the other person, with the idea that if the protagonist doesn't get to express his/her feelings right then, all will be lost. When well-meaning total strangers help along the way, I've often found some of those strangers a better fit than the actual True Love and have wondered what would happen if the protagonist changed his/her mind about tracking down the True Love and ended up with one of those people. I doubt you'd get that to work, since you'd feel a bit cheated if you sat through a whole movie about the protagonist falling in love with that one person, only to have things change at the last minute.

This movie is the next best thing, though, as the whole movie is that desperate attempt to reach the True Love, with the idea that the relationship will end if she doesn't get to propose to him on Leap Day. And then along the way, she meets someone who's actually better for her.

Meanwhile, this is a relatively clean romantic film that doesn't resort to the steamy sex scene as a shortcut to show that the two people are in love. In fact, there's a scene where they very much don't have sex that's actually much sexier than any writhing in the sheets scene. Just watching their expressions and their awareness of each other almost left me breathless and made me more convinced of their feelings for each other.

They also got past the usual character stereotypes. She was a driven, control-freak, type-A personality, but she was still the romantic one, while he was the more laid-back, relaxed one, but he was the romantic cynic. That mixed it up a bit instead of having the driven one also be unromantic.

I think a successful romance needs to convince us that there really is a reason for these two people to end up together, beyond just the fact that they're the two main characters in a romantic film, and that's where a lot of these movies fail. All the focus is on the gimmick that keeps them apart, with no reason for them to be together. This one worked for me on that level. I could see how they were good for each other and could imagine that they'd be happy together. I could see how they helped each other grow and change, and how they were better people for knowing each other.

Unfortunately, the conflict didn't really work. They bickered from the start for no other reason than that they were the two main characters in a romantic comedy, and they're required to spend the first half of the movie bickering. Once he finds out why she's making this mad dash, he does have reason to be hostile, but he's hostile from the first meeting. There is actually enough conflict built into the story to keep them apart, but they barely use it. He's hostile to her romantic mission because he's had his heart broken by his girlfriend leaving him for his friend (after, apparently, some cheating going on behind his back). He doesn't want to believe in love, and I think they could have played up the fact that even after he develops feelings for her, he's not going to make a move on a woman with a boyfriend and do to someone else what was done to him. There's another little thing that I think could have been better used -- his motivation for agreeing to drive her was the fact that his pub is about to be repossessed, and he needs this money to save his business. But although we see that conversation from her point of view, it never comes up that she knows about this, and you'd think that he'd be more concerned about getting her to Dublin instead of being a jerk about it if he's doing this to save his business.

In general, I think this is a film that shows the underlying cynicism that Hollywood seems to have for this kind of movie. The people who make a lot of these films don't actually seem to like them much or believe they could possibly have any merits. They're just relatively cheap to produce (no special effects, small cast, not much in the way of stunts or action) and have a built-in audience, plus you'll probably make up the film's budget just by the eventual syndication deal with Lifetime or Oxygen. This film had the elements to be good, but they just didn't bother taking the extra thought to make it good. I always get the feeling that they think the audience for this kind of thing isn't smart enough to know better or will be satisfied with second-rate instead of demanding better.

No comments: