03 July 2010

Kate & Leopold

Hugh Jackman Saves Kate & Leopold
Guest Review by Leigh Wood

I don’t do the sappy romantic comedy thang, but I was intrigue enough by the time travel premise of 2001’s Kate & Leopold to take a chance that this was not the same old, same oldWhile it certainly has its leaps and faults, a great leading man goes a long way in keeping Kate & Leopold watchable.

In 1876 New York, Leopold Mountbatten, Duke of Albany (Hugh Jackman) would rather focus on inventing the elevator than dealing with the family’s pressure to marry rich and upkeep the aristocratic name.  After catching scientist Stuart Besser (Liev Schreiber) taking photographs of his designs, Leopold pursues Stuart off the incomplete Brooklyn Bridge and accidentally follows him to modern New York City.  Stuart explains his time traveling methods to Leopold and hopes to collaborate scientifically until the next portal opens in a week.  Unfortunately, Stuart falls down an elevator shaft and is hospitalized, leaving the stranded Leo in the watch of downstairs neighbors- the career minded Kate (Meg Ryan), also Stuart’s ex-girlfriend, and her brother Charles (Breckin Meyer), an out of work actor.  Despite no one believing his extraordinary tale, Leo befriends Charles, helps Kate with a commercial, and begins to fall in love with her.

Let’s get some of the iffy out of the way first. Fans of serious science fiction time travel romance won’t find it here.  The mechanics of Kate & Leopold’s time travel are not fully explored beyond a few illustrations and convoluted gibberish conversations.  This critical element is instead treated as the dues ex machina that put things into place.  Sure, we don’t need a lot of serious scientific jargon or lots of unnecessary primo effects, but this lack of development on a truly promising premise adds to some of the dramatic plot holes from director James Mangold (Walk the Line, Girl Interrupted) and co-writer Steven Rogers (Hope Floats, P.S. I Love You).  All this then in turn hinders some of the fine cast and character arcs.  Thankfully, there’s not a lot of slapstick or performance comedy in Kate & Leopold- which is refreshing compared to other younger, supposedly hip romantic comedies that hinge on several mistaken hysteria scenes.  I’m glad Mangold stuck to something cynical, older, and more mature than the recent trend of twenty something gals looking for love, but all this is evidence that perhaps Kate & Leopold would have been better off as a purely dramatic piece.

Kate & LeopoldI don’t think I hate Meg Ryan, but her performance here is a tough pill to swallow.  It’s not because Kate’s kind of a bitchy career woman- no, we’ve just seen this exact same role in all Ryan’s other romantic comedies.   I know she has made a few other dramatic or action films, but my goodness Meg Ryan latched onto the rom com with When Harry Met Sally and hasn’t let go.  Sleepless in Seattle, anyone? And even dramatically, how sappy is City of Angels, honestly? I can tolerate You’ve Got Mail because it has a bit of a unique book angle and spin, but isn’t there another lovely mature actress in Hollywood or beyond ready to take the mantle?  Again, I don’t mean those sassy twenty somethings, but someone a little more realistic.  How many times can Meg Ryan be in NYC looking for love? Not only is there nothing new here from Ryan, but it’s almost parody thanks to so many romantic appearances.  Kate is cute, sure, even lovely in some scenes.  Unfortunately, her drab, manly style and choppy haircut make her too boyish; and the big botox lips of the moment are just unattractive.  I feel bad in thinking it, but why would Leopold even like her? The Breakfast at Tiffany’s references are also too stereotypical and why do we need to go there, anyway? Sadly, on my second viewing of Kate & Leopold I realized the best parts of the film have the least of Meg Ryan.  Ouch!

By contrast, I’m not a super drool fan of Golden Globe nominee Hugh Jackman by any means.  However, he’s proven his skill and range with X-Men, Swordfish, The Fountain, even Viva Laughlin, and for some reason I like the guilty pleasure Someone Like You (up until the last half hour that is, ugh).  Leopold’s old-fashioned, stoic, and stiff upper lip aristocrat isn’t afraid to carry on his ways or tell it like it is, yet he’s the most likeable person in the film.  Despite the fish out of water button-up style, he is the most realistic and intelligent person presented.  We feel for his circumstance and like the honest and fresh faced perspective he brings to modern New York.  Jackman looks the part in the period costume and is able to share his disillusionment with the old aristocracy as much as the joy found in modern conveniences.  It’s a big leap for Leo to fit in so quickly and have cool clothes and all the city celebrity, but Jackman’s accent and style are on form. He’s innocent, mannerly, and behaves the true gentleman-yet these qualities also make Leopold strong, attractive, and threatening to lesser men.  It’s as if Jackman is Leopold, taking the drama and performance more seriously than anyone else does here.  Ladies who love him will eat up Kate & Leopold.

Liev Schreiber, unfortunately, gets the short end of the stick in Kate & Leopold.  I always think he looks somewhat creepy or has a penchant for playing villains or cads, but Schreiber (Scream, A Walk on the Moon, X-Men Origins: Wolverine with Jackman) is dandy as the quirky scientist who sets all the Fate in motion.  There’s just not enough time with Stuart to really care. He falls down the elevator shaft, is laid up in the hospital, and ends up committed to an institution for talking about time travel- but everyone is too busy playing the romantic comedy to even visit!  Likewise underused is the charming Breckin Meyer (Clueless, Road Trip, Robot Chicken) as Kate’s goofy younger brother Charles.  Despite being considered still in the younger, silly and stupid comedy arena, Meyer proves he can handle himself with the bigger names here.  They’re both wonderful, but Kate’s slimey boss Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) as mousy secretary Darci also don’t get enough time to shine.  Again, a straight drama would have better served this fine ensemble.  In that case, only one of these characters could be highlight with lighthearted comedy- either the injured and nutty time traveler, a wayward brother trying to go straight, the sleazy skirt-chasing bigwig, or a batty eyed and sappy secretary.  With that chance at refined dedication, any of the talented cast here could have done something great.

Fortunately, Kate & Leopold looks cool.  Not just an afterthought of production, the opening and closing period piece segments look just fine.  The New York apartments are also sweet looking-although I don’t know how rich you have to be to have such swanky and special spaces in the city.  And who leaves a walk out window open at night in this day and age, really? The additional layer of the period style mixed with modern looks stands out as out of place, but also seems strangely fitting.  Leopold being about town in his old time frock coat isn’t as goofy as one might think in these quirky times!   The blend of old 19th century buildings being adapted to new city uses also adds realistic charm.   Though Leopold is supposed to have invented the elevator, it’s kind of a miss on how all the elevators in the city stop when Leo moves forward in time.  If this bit of useless information is so important, it should have been treated as more than a plot contrivance when necessary. Fortunately, a few fine chases on foot and horseback look fun and fast paced.  There are no major effects to speak of for the time travel bits, but the swift pacing and suspenseful jumps set the mood and atmosphere accordingly.

Although I wasn’t expecting something as special as say Somewhere in Time, I had higher hopes for Kate & Leopold.  While Jackman delivers a fine and entertaining performance, the too loose time travel angles and ill casting of the same old Meg Ryan can undo the picture.  Deleted scenes and extras on the DVD help fix some of the internal errors, but mainstream audiences looking for serious drama or science fiction fans looking for some hefty Time analysis won’t find it here. Casual viewers can find a cable sampling, netflix options, or affordable DVD editions.  Packaged sets with other similar romance films are also out there for die-hard fans. Despite its hang-ups, lovers of Hugh Jackman and fans of the quirky New York rom com genre will enjoy  Kate & Leopold nonetheless. 

No comments: