KATE & LEOPOLD A film review by Norm Schrager Copyright 2001 filmcritic.com
At first glance, Kate & Leopold appears to be a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic fantasy. A successful, 21st century woman meets the Duke of Albany circa 1876, via a hiccup in the time-space continuum. And although they can't find true love within their own generations, it might be possible with one another. Sounds like a recipe for a safe, mushy Hollywood movie, so what makes this film different? It's the way writer-director James Mangold (Copland, Girl,Interrupted) avoids stereotype, with an intelligent, crowd-pleasing take on the time travel love story. It's smart enough to remind us just how stupid a movie like Just Visiting is.
And not only is the storytelling sharp, but the characters are too. Meg Ryan (not too perky, not too whiny) is Kate McKay, working her way up the NYC corporate ladder, but too busy for love after a four-year relationship with her brilliant ex, Stuart (Liev Schreiber). When Stuart discovers an open portal in the fabric of time -- you have to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge at just the right time -- he accidentally brings the 19th century Duke back to modern-day New York. Everyone involved, including Ryan's kid brother Charlie (the underrated Breckin Meyer), clearly has some baggage and life experience, and Mangold's script (co-written with Steven Rogers) clues us in without clobbering us.
Kate's disappointment with Stuart and his zealous dedication to science is handled in one short phone conversation, infused with sadness and humor. Kate's view on Charlie's attempted profession gracefully slips out when she refers to him attending "actor camp." It's not that the story is subtle or even unpredictable, but some of its delivery is.
Some of Kate & Leopold does take place in the 1870s, of course, but the film is original enough to open there rather than in the current time (normally, we'd see an unhappy, modern Meg Ryan begin a film like this). In the first scene, Jackman, proper and genuine as Leopold, notices Stuart snapping a digital camera and tries chasing him down. Later in the sequence, Leopold (and we) pass right by Meg Ryan. Huh? You may have to look closely, but the filmmakers have taken a big enough risk to let us know that her character will be there -- you just have to hang around to find out how and why. And that's the fun part.
While in 2001 New York, Leopold doesn't go through the typical problems you might see in other time-shock films -- you know, the shock of riding the subway, hailing a cab, etc. He does dodge traffic here and there, but he acclimates well, right in step with the intellect of his character. He marvels that the Brooklyn Bridge still stands, he tells wonderful stories, and he even rigs the toaster to work the way he wants it. Not too many signs of the old, dumb, fish-out-of-water tales, and that adds to the film's individuality.
Leopold is also a wealth of advice -- perhaps because he's smarter than many of his current day compatriots, but more so because he's well-mannered, cultured, and sympathetic. By the time he gives Charlie romantic advice, we're really rooting for both of them.
A good sign of Kate & Leopold's strength is that the story really doesn't hinge on the budding romance between the title characters. The lively pace and handful of subplots buoy the film, as do the performances, notably the small role played by Schreiber. But Ryan and Jackman work fairly well together, and having them fall in love results in a light, satisfying movie with an equally likable ending.
|------------------------------| \ ***** Perfection \ \ **** Good, memorable film \ \ *** Average, hits and misses \ \ ** Sub-par on many levels \ \ * Unquestionably awful \ |------------------------------|
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: James Mangold Producer: Cathy Konrad Writer: James Mangold, Steven Rogers Starring: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Natasha Lyonne, Bradley Whitford, Philip Bosco
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