It’s no secret that I review films that fall into the Romance category with great leniency. I never expect too much except to be entertained. No deep thinking required here, please. Romance films, for the most part, are also comedies. Fist Out of Water films, on the other hand, are almost always Romance and Comedy, and this is where James Mangold’s Kate and Leopold finds a home. Of course that doesn’t stop it from bringing along elements of a Time Travel film.
Kate and Leopold stars Romantic Comedy queen Meg Ryan as Kate McKay, a workaholic who has no time for romance, much less get involve with Leopold (Hugh Jackman), a man who claims to not only be a British Duke, but also from the 19th century! It seems Leopold has been transported into the future unwillingly, through a “crack” in space-time while pursuing intrepid mad scientist-wannabe Stuart (Live Schreiber), the 20th century man who discovered the crack and traveled back into the past.
Now trapped in the 20th century, Leopold must rely on Stuart to survive the strange new world that he finds himself in. Unfortunately Stuart gets into an unexpected accident and ends up in the hospital, forcing Leopold to rely on Kate, Stuart’s ex-girlfriend and neighbor, and Kate’s struggling actor of a brother Charlie (Breckin Meyer). Can a charming but grossly out-of-his-elements Leopold survive New York City? Will he fall in love with Kate and vice versa? Will Kate realize that her life of hustle-and-bustle is an empty one and allow herself to find salvation in the arms of the traditional Leopold? The answer, of course, is Yes to all of the above. As the saying goes — Well, duh.
As previously mentioned, I don’t expect very much from my Romance films. Kate and Leopold delivers just enough to keep me entertained, since its Time Travel elements are incredibly weak and filled with plot holes that, if considered for longer than a few seconds, make no sense. There are many gaping plot threads in the time travel theory that are obvious; this despite the fact that the whole time travel aspect is mostly shuffled into the background until later in the film — and even then it pops back in for just a brief hello and goodbye. On just a Romantic Comedy level, Kate and Leopold delivers what it promises and not much else, which is just fine with me.
Hugh Jackman, fresh from X-Men and another romantic comedy called Someone Like You, is starting to make his mark in Hollywood. The man has great screen charisma and, like his character’s foray into commercials, Jackman has a bright future ahead of him. The man is simply a natural actor and lady’s man. Meg Ryan, as usual, is very good as the “˜90s girl with a soft spot for a man who knows how to woo a woman the “right” way. Ryan has the role down so well that she could have done the whole movie while sleepwalking. But as usual, Ryan falters a bit when the screenplay calls for melodrama. Just as she proved in Proof of Life with Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan is not cut out to “stretch”. A fine addition to the cast is Bradley Whitford as J.J., Kate’s pretentious boss who may or may not be using a possible promotion to try to get into her pants. Whitford is hilarious and downright creepy at the same time.
Director and co-writer James Mangold (Cop Land) finds a convenient gimmick to prevent the film from having the been-there, done-that vibe of other Fish Out of Water films that involves time travelers. The Leopold character, despite being 100 years behind in technology and knowledge, is made to be a scientist and inventor, as well as a well-read and cultured gentleman. This means Mangold and fellow screenwriter Steven Rogers only has to spend the film’s first 40 or so minutes introducing Leopold to his new surroundings before the inventor starts to accept the wild technological advancements and make them his own. This allows the 2-hour movie to spend the rest of its time on the romance angle.
The film also runs into trouble when it shifts back to the plight of Live Schreiber’s Stuart, who after ending up in traction from his accident, is committed by the State to a mental hospital. The whole sequence with Stuart being un-allowed to have a phone (in order to contact Leopold) and his commitment smells of a gimmicky ploy to keep him from Leopold, thus forcing Leopold to rely on Kate and the happy-go-lucky Charlie. Leading, of course, to more encounters of Leopold interacting with the 20th century. But after a while, Stuart’s continued forced incarceration just seems silly and really bothered the flow of the film.
Director James Mangold, who began his career with the independent feature Heavy starring a novice Liv Tyler, puts the Hollywood budget to good use. Mangold and his team renders 19th century New York with great affection, and the few minutes early in the film that we do spend in the past is gorgeous to look at. Mangold has never been a flashy director, but more of a down-to-Earth storyteller. Kate and Leopold moves at its own pace and although the Third Act is something of a mess, the movie as a whole moves well.
Kate and Leopold is not more than it is, and doesn’t claim to be. It’s funny in the beginning, romantic in the middle, and problematic in the end. Then again, all Romance films, seeking to resolve the “problem” as quickly as possible, are always rife with convenient plot points that leaves the audience snickering at how everything falls into place so perfectly.
Then again, it’s just a Romantic Comedy, so what else did you expect?
James Mangold (director) / James Mangold, Steven Rogers (screenplay)
CAST: Meg Ryan …. Kate McKay
Hugh Jackman …. Leopold
Liev Schreiber …. Stuart Besser
Breckin Meyer …. Charlie McKay
Natasha Lyonne …. Darci