Kate & Leopold [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #4]

Not long ago, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which cam out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #4.  Spoilers ahead.  

Kate & Leopold

Kate & Leopold

Directed by James Mangold

Release Date:  December 25, 2001
My age then:  31 years old

What it is about:  Leopold, a 19th century duke, accidentally falls through a crack in time to the present, where he meets Kate, an advertising executive who is the ex-girlfriend of the scientist who discovered the crack in time.   Kate is impressed by Leopold’s gentlemanly manners and the two fall in love.  When Leopold jeopardizes Kate’s work, they separate and he returns back to his own time, but when Kate discovers photographs that prove that she will one day be in the past, she joins him in his century and the two are married.

Starring Meg Ryan as Kate, Hugh Jackman as Leopold, Liev Schreiber as Stuart (Kate’s ex-boyfriend), Breckin Meyer as Charlie (Kate’s brother, a struggling actor) and Bradley Whitford as JJ, Kate’s boss.  Spalding Gray appears briefly as a doctor and Viola Davis shows up even more briefly as a police officer.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I was vaguely aware of this movie as a time travel-romantic comedy, and that it featured Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan.  Then I learned it was directed by James Mangold (The Wolverine, Logan, and Ford v. Ferrari) and I thought, “Hey, he did a romantic comedy early in his career.  I wonder what that’s like?  It can’t be too bad, right?”

Reality:  Uhh….

So, the thing about romantic comedies, is that for them to work well, they have to be funny.  Like, not just good-naturedly light-hearted, but they have to be genuinely funny, especially in that first third or so when you are still connecting with the characters and coming to place of caring about their relationship.  This is something I find true for a lot of this genre that I’ve really liked (or even just enjoyed at the time), including When Harry Met Sally, Forget Paris, Hitch, Notting Hill, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days…even something like Singin’ in the Rain.  They all made me legitimately laugh, which gave me the good feelings that helped me to connect to whatever romance the story is trying to invite us to invest in.

And if you can’t guess where I’m going with this, it’s that Kate & Leopold just didn’t make me laugh.  Like, hardly at all.

There is some attempts at humor, particularly with the plight of Liev Schreiber’s Stuart, who is stuck in a hospital because everyone assumes he’s deranged and crazy, but I just didn’t find it funny.  I think there was just one bit in the whole movie that made me audibly chuckle, and it’s when Meg Ryan’s brother starts complaining that his sister didn’t give him an acting audition, and he starts rattling off a series of accents in the background.  That elicited about a two second giggle.

The rest of the movie fell flat, and not just in terms of comedy, but in the romance and story sides as well.  Meg Ryan is obviously a talented actress and Hugh Jackman shows very clearly the star-power that he was developing, but the characters just don’t have much going for them.  Leopold is aristocratic, principled and good at everything; Kate is overly driven in her work–and that’s pretty much it.  Their relationship has a sweet side, mostly because Leopold is basically a perfect guy and determinedly sweeps Kate off her feet.  But then after the lamest of complications (Leopold becomes offended when he realizes that Kate’s advertising work is shallow) they abruptly split up, and Leopold ends up returning to his own time off-camera, and or in other words, in the least emotionally engaging way possible

Kate meanwhile finally wins her dream promotion, but then has her incredibly predictable epiphany that it was Leopold who made her happy.  (This happens, incidentally, because Stuart develops some pictures he took on his initial journey to the past, and discovers that Kate is in them, not just off in the corner or something, but incredibly prominently, making it unbelievable that he didn’t notice her there in the first place).  So off she goes to he past, giving up her job, her apartment, her century, and every single element of her existence, basically to run off with a guy she’s known for a few day, forever.  And Leopold is actually having financial troubles and there’s a a lot strain in his family as a result, but it’s okay, he’s in love with a woman with zero money or assets, whom he barely knows, so they’ll probably be fine.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think?  There are a bunch of potential ideas in Kate & Leopold that feel like they got lost either in the script rewrites or the editing.  The end result is bland and low-stakes, and kind of stupid.  Only the charisma of Meg Ryan and especially Hugh Jackman elevate things in the middle a bit, but for in general they just can’t overcome the bland, low-stakes, and sometimes stupid storytelling.

See here for the Master List.


5 thoughts on “Kate & Leopold [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #4]

  1. I’m not bothered by the “flee to another time with someone you just met” — that’s acceptable to me in a rom-com (and it’s common enough in time-travel romance). However—
    “Their relationship has a sweet side, mostly because Leopold is basically a perfect guy and determinedly sweeps Kate off her feet.” Perfect guy/hot mess is an old rom-com trope too, but it’s one I really hate. Leopold’s a perfect dude who has resisted pressure to marry because he’s waiting for true love; Kate’s a screw-up who’s never married because she’s so bad at relationships and so on.
    “But then after the lamest of complications (Leopold becomes offended when he realizes that Kate’s advertising work is shallow)” More of the same, showing that he’s the soul of honor while Kate’s working in something marginally more ethical than prostitution (OMG, advertising stuff you don’t like!). A Hollywood movie getting huffy about the evils of marketing is pretty dumb too

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    You know, I think I can put up with just about any genre trope or cliche if it’s done with a measure of heart and wit and freshness, but I just didn’t find anywhere enough of those qualities here to make the film tolerable.

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