KATE & LEOPOLD
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Natasha Lyonne, Bradley Whitford
MPAA Rating: (for brief strong language)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 12/25/01
Review by Mark Dujsik
I would have thought that when a romantic comedy would employ time travel in its story, it would mean an automatic failure and a sign of complete desperation in the genre, but that is not the case. Kate & Leopold, a fanciful romantic comedy, is a surprisingly successful venture that does indeed use the time travel gimmick. Instead of emphasizing its importance or lingering too long on technicalities, though, the movie is a simple pleasure—the kind of entertainment romantic comedies are prone to provide. It’s essentially a series of familiar scenes—as most romantic comedies are—but that it somehow seems fresh until late in the final act is a nice surprise. Perhaps the reasoning behind this is because the movie doesn’t seem to be about the couple in the foreground, but about an antique mode of conduct that is still quite appealing today—chivalry.
Most of the plot will be common knowledge to fans of the genre, but the setup is a bit different. Leopold, the Third Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) lives a common life for a duke in 1876 New York. He is completely disillusioned with his title, as he did nothing to get it. He sees other more prominent Americans who have worked their hardest to get where they are and thinks he may be able to join them with a device that uses pulleys and a cart to take people in between floors of buildings. His uncle disagrees and has essentially disowned him and demanded that he choose a woman to marry by the end of a party. Distracting him from his task is a strange man at the dance, using a device that looks much like a small camera. Leopold follows him onto the scaffolding of a bridge where the two fall into a portal and end up in present day New York. The strange man, named Stuart (Liev Schreiber), takes Leopold back to his apartment where he plans to keep him in secret. Unfortunately, they are discovered by Stuart’s upstairs neighbor and ex-girlfriend Kate McKay (Meg Ryan), a successful research executive, and even more unfortunately, Stuart falls down an elevator shaft when all the elevators in the city mysteriously stop working.
This setup may sound like one out of a bad French comedy and it could have been played as such, but the entire fish-out-of-water material is kept to a pleasant minimum. Leopold is not simply a comedic device. He is a nicely developed type, so when obvious jokes do play out, Leopold is too much of an intelligent character to simply be subjected to pointless physical humor. He either talks his way out of situations (and the joke is how people react to his more mannered ways), or we watch the aftermath of an accident (and the joke isn’t as painfully obvious as it could be). Then there is the fact that the characters in the movie do have things to learn from Leopold. Kate’s brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer) learns a more becoming way to court women, and of course Kate herself will have a lot to learn as well.
The relationship between Kate and Leopold is of the confusion turning to attraction turning to romance type. A lot of their romancing scenes seem quite familiar, but that’s to be expected in any movie such as this. Interestingly enough, the romance itself seems kept in the background, and the same goes for the film’s leading lady. What attracts Kate (and many other women in the movie) to Leopold is his sense of duty and his polished refinement. This idea of chivalry and Leopold himself stay in the foreground. The movie isn’t necessarily about Kate falling in love with Leopold, but about the audience falling in love with an attitude. So in effect, Leopold becomes the main character. Hugh Jackman has turned in two solid performances in two less-than-noteworthy movies (X-Men and Someone Like You), but here he has solid material to stand atop of. He’s effectively suave and debonair. Meg Ryan, on the other hand, is not given much to do, and Kate doesn’t feel developed. This is not Ryan’s fault, of course.
The movie keeps a nicely brisk pacing, although the final act brings about a typical and easily resolvable conflict and a major revelation. Around this time, the movie begins to feel a bit contrived, especially when one character gives a pretty lengthy speech about nothing when time is of the essence. An odd entry into the primarily Oscar-nabbing December release front, Kate & Leopold serves its purpose as a slightly different date movie—as long as men realize they will be obligated to open the door for their female companions for at least a few days afterward.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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