Positive Movie Roles: “Leap Year”

While I spend a lot of time talking about common themes in movies and stories where Jerky behavior like stalking, emotional manipulation, insincere charm, jealousy, substance abuse, and aggressive sexual behavior are made to seem romantic, there are some movies that manage to be quite romantic while showing the male hero of the tale to be gentlemanly and respectful, and the heroine to show good judgment and self-respect. I was fortunate to watch such a movie just yesterday: “Leap Year”.

Our heroine. Anna Brady (Amy Adams), is a Bostonian who has plans for everything in her life. She has a well-to-do cardiologist, Jeremy (Adam Scott) as a boyfriend, and fully intends to marry him. Despite being together for four years, he does not seem to have any intention of proposing. So while he is attending a conference in Dublin, Ireland, she decides for once to be spontaneous, and takes the bold step of traveling to Dublin to ask him to marry her, taking advantage of the Irish tradition that women are allowed to propose to men on the 29th of February in a “leap year.”

As one might expect, Anna encounters one disaster after another on her way there, and after being dropped off by a boat captain on a deserted beach during a torrential rainstorm, she is forced to hire a seemingly cynical pub owner, Declan O’Callahan (Matthew Goode), to drive her from rural Ireland to her planned meeting in Dublin in time for the 29th of February. They encounter several more predictable yet amusing disasters on the way, and as they are forced to cope together with adversity, they understandably begin to bond with each other.

At this point in the movie, I start to get worried. This is usually where the new guy uses various kinds of charm and pressure tactics to manipulate the heroine into understanding that she needs to throw over her current beau in favor of him. But nothing of the kind ensues. Declan continues to behave respectfully, if gruffly, toward Anna, despite his obviously growing affection for her. He does tell her an old Irish legend that she correctly interprets to express suspicions that her relationship with Jeremy is not meant to be, but he does not try to charm her or convince her to connect with him romantically. That night, they are forced by the locals’ rigid mores to pretend they are a married couple so they can get a room at a rural B&B, and are pressured by the landlady into kising each other at the dinner table, and even end up sleeping in the same bed! But despite the temptation, Declan remains a gentleman and Anna remains true to her promise to propose to Jeremy in Dublin.

The next day, after being forced to take refuge from a hailstorm at a local wedding reception, Anna gets extremely drunk and for the first time begins to realize that she’s falling in love with Declan. As she is about to kiss him, she vomits on his shoes. Rather than taking advantage of her vulnerability, he takes her to a park bench and she sleeps with her head on his lap all night, and he never mentions the almost-kiss to her again.

How many movies involve a woman “losing control” while drunk and engaging in sex with a person she hardly knows? How often does the male character choose not to take advantage of such a situation? Most romantic movies would show the man as much more aggressive in pursuing his “quarry”, rather than taking the honorable road and protecting her from potential harm while continuing to respect her pre-existing relationship.

The next day, they finally arrive in Dublin, where surprisingly, Jeremy himself proposes to Anna in front of a big crowd at the hotel, while Declan respectfully makes himself scarce. Despite a look of longing in Delcan’s direction as he leaves the hotel lobby, Anna accepts the proposal and returns to Boston for the engagement party.

At the party, Anna overhears Jeremy explaining to a friend how he had to lie to the proprietor of their new penthouse apartment about the two of them being married in order to get the lease, and that he afterwards decided, “What the hell – we’re probably going to get married some day, why not now?” This not-so-romantic tale is enough for Anna to decide to test him out and see what he values. Without going into details, it’s fair to say he fails the test miserably, and she is done with him.

We are all relieved when she returns to Ireland and seeks out Declan, and despite a little twist, it’s a very romantic happy ending indeed. The writers do a great job of showing the building romantic tension between the two protagonists without resorting to any kind of intense jealousy, overwhelming “need” to consummate the relationship, nor manipulative tactics designed to “win” the heroine to the hero’s arms. It simply showed two normal but very different people tossed together by unexpected circumstances, struggling to figure out what they are supposed to do. It left me with a good feeling that maybe there is hope that Hollywood may yet stop promoting stalking and write love stories that involve healthy people who actually care about each other. And of course, it was refreshing to see that this time, the Jerk didn’t get the girl!

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