Kate & Leopold (2001)
Coming from James Mangold, the director of ‘Girl, Interrupted‘ (1999), ‘Kate & Leopold‘ is a romantic fantasy comedy, telling the story of Kate McKay (Meg Ryan), who lives a busy, but happy life in the 21st century New York. When her ex-boyfriend, Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber), a scientist, manages to find a portal to the past, he, inadvertently, transports into his apartment Leopold (Hugh Jackman), a handsome Duke of Albany from the 19th century. Although Kate is a woman driven by common sense and realistic views on life, she soon succumbs to the charms of the mysterious stranger from 1867.
Firstly, the positives: ‘Kate & Leopold’ is a wholly enjoyable experience, and its main premise – time-travel – should not really be taken too seriously. The film has its share of funny moments, and does make you feel good about life and love in general. The film story is also interesting: it is amusing to watch Leopold, who comes from the year 1867, being slowly acquainted with the fast-paced life and technological progress of the 21st century. Leopold also wastes no time showing off his 19th century rural America skills, including his exemplary horse-riding. Really, Leopold’s crazy horseback chase across New York’s Central Park is one of this film’s highlights. The laurel wreath, however, should go to Hugh Jackman himself, who, in the role of the dignified and charming Duke, really makes this film watchable. The role of the Duke really suits Jackman’s ‘noble’ looks. His great acting here (the uncanny portrayal of Duke’s confidence, enthusiasm and curiosity), had actually won him the Golden Globe nomination the year before. Few also know that, in fact, Jackman took etiquette lessons, studied ballroom dancing and trained to ride a horse for this film.
However, the negatives soon follow. If Hugh Jackman as Leopold is the very definition of courtesy and charm, the veteran of romantic comedies, Meg Ryan in the role of Kate McKay is quite the opposite. Ryan’s character is, if not completely rude, than a very annoying persona. Although the idea behind the script maybe be to make Kate McKay career-obsessed and romance-averse, it seems that Ryan has taken these notions only too close to heart and had gone too far. Although Ryan’s acting is good, her character’s very presence, including her lines, is very annoying at times. This means, ironically, that the film’s best scenes are those which do not include her at all (and, yes, it is Duke’s scenes which are most enjoyable to watch). Sandra Bullock was the original choice to play Kate McKay, and one may wonder whether she would not have made a better cast than Ryan.
The script’s intelligent flow rescues the situation somewhat: as the film progresses, it improves, largely as a result of the fact that Ryan’s character becomes ‘subdued’ and slowly changes her atrocious attitude towards everything in life. Here, we finally see the film’s best parts, where the chemistry between Jackman and Ryan is growing and the two become really affectionate towards one another. However, this blissful period is also short-lived as we are soon ‘transported’ back to the nonsensical technological advances of the filmakers’ ingenuities.
The time travel concept in ‘Kate & Leopold’ is so badly thought-out that it is completely ludicrous: no time machine is needed if one is to find the so-called ‘time portal’, which actually means simply jumping from the Brooklyn Bridge. Moreover, this jumping should be done within a week or so, because only at certain periods of time the ‘portal’ is opened. This is a rather ‘lazy’ way to present time-travel, and can only be explained away by the director’s wish to concentrate his attention on the romance between the leads. If this is so, it did succeed – but at the expense of this film’s standing.
It is also illogical to blame the film’s disastrous moments on the fantasy elements. It is sufficient to look at such films as ‘Groundhog Day’ (1993) and ‘Sliding Doors’ (1998) to see that fantastical elements in a move can work well, given that all other elements, such as cast performances, do not let the whole picture down. Although, again, as in ‘Prelude to a Kiss’ (1992) and ‘Meet Joe Black’ (1998), the fantasy element may prove too much for the audience to take in one go.
One other worthy mention is Liev Schreiber (‘The Painted Veil’ (2006)), who portrays Kate’s ex-boyfriend, who is now a neighbour living on the floor above hers. One really feels for this man, who is trying to persuade the world that his invention is real and true. Schreiber does a good job. Breckin Meyer, who plays Kate’s actor brother Charlie is also good, and brings a lot of humour to the film when he tries to play along with Leopold’s explanations as to his identity.
All in all, despite Jackman’s charismatic acting (those romantic gestures!), ‘Kate & Leopold’ suffers from badly thought-out time-travel scenario and a plot which is too predictable. Meg Ryan’s haughty and frustrated performance only makes the film worse. On the other hand, if you are really into light romantic comedies and there is a liking for the two leads, ‘Kate and Leopold’ maybe worth a watch. 5/10