May 17, 2013

[Movies] Kate & Leopold (2001)

When you're home with the family for a weekend, you concede the fact that you will have little to no control over the TV. Instead you clutch your tablet or smartphone to you the whole time as you just ride along with what becomes the "official" family program.

Don't get me wrong - I actually enjoyed Kate & Leopold. But I just wanted to provide some context for why I watched this movie again recently. Normally I could blame my partner Tobie's general love for romantic comedies for such movies appearing in my review queue, but this was a special case.

Kate & Leopold always felt like a reverse version of Somewhere in Time, albeit a lot more comedic. It's a natural reaction given the time travel premise that is central to the overall plot of the movie, I suppose. And to be fair, things work rather well in this regard. The movie has a decent touch of scientific nerdiness woven into the rest of the narrative with all the other bits being taken up by Meg Ryan's expressions and Hugh Jackman acting practically like a Disney prince come to life. Good job.

Synopsis: Kate & Leopold is a 2001 romantic comedy directed by James Mangold. The screenplay was written by Steven Rogers together with Mangold. It goes without saying that the movie does not aim to be historically accurate - so let's not harp on those issues.

In 1876, we meet the Duke of Albany, one Leopold Alexis Elijah Walker Thomas Gareth Mountbatten (Hugh Jackman). His uncle is pressuring him to get married in order to continue the line and restore the family fortunes at the same time. Thus he is set to announce his fiance at a party when he encounters Stuart (Liev Schreiber) taking photographs of Leopold's designs. Stuart tries to escape to the under construction Brooklyn Bridge and Leopold pursue him right off the edge.

Fast-forward to the modern day and it is revealed that Stuart is sort of a physicist and he has been working on his time travel theory. For him you don't need a machine to travel through time - there are just naturally occurring portals that one can just jump through with sufficient velocity in order to cross over. And that last portal returned Stuart to his time with Leopold as an unexpected passenger. So now Stuart has to figure out how to get him home while he also juggles with his ex-girlfriend Kate (Meg Ryan), who lives in the apartment above his.

The added quirk here other than the time travel is the decision to make Leopold the supposed inventor of the elevator, as named after his manservant Otis. Thus Leopold isn't just some old noble thrown across time - he's an inventor with the same degree of scientific inquisitiveness that sent Stuart back in time in the first place. It doesn't fully justify how quickly Leopold is able to acclimate to modern day New York living, but they writers needed some sort of an explanation and so just let them run with it I suppose.

Hugh Jackman is amazingly charming in this movie - which is funny when you compare it to the rough and tumble action roles he has also gotten involved in over the years. He is just the absolute perfect gentleman but at the same time the sort of "rebel" noble who doesn't act like he owns everything in sight. But it's not an issue that he's practically the ideal guy - it's a romantic comedy so of course it's perfectly fine to have an unrealistic man reciting the narrative for a commercial in a way that make women swoon.

Meg Ryan is Meg Ryan is Meg Ryan. Thus if you like her movies, then you'll enjoy this one. If you hate the way she acts, then you better steer clear. There are things that she is able to pull off in terms of facial expressions, mannerisms and her signature hair that few other actresses are able to emulate. And so she's still the busy career woman here and eventually her heart melts for the magically endearing Leopold.

I feel rather bad for Liev Schreiber since he starts out rather central in the movie and is quickly shoved aside into the background. He's kind of adorkably cute in this movie as the bumbling scientist, although I don't fully understand why they had to subject him to the trials and tribulations that they did in this movie. But what can you do - they needed to devote more of the time to the couple and so he was relegated to the function of a plot device. Thus he does return just in time to restore the status quo - or at least attempt to.

Breckin Meyer's involvement as Kate's brother sort of dated the movie firmly in the sort of late 90's, early 2000's notions of people at the time. But you know, he wasn't that bad this time around. He typically plays stoner slackers roles in other comedies for some reason. This time he was, well, more of a general slacker dweeb, so it still played to his strengths while allowing him to demonstrate a bit more range.

Elements that can be classified only as magical realism put aside, the movie is a lot of fun and the sort of comforting story that you want to sit down with after a long day. It's not an overly complicated story and it's not one that will survive a heck of a lot of scrutiny. So just go with the flow, sit back and relax and be entertained by Meg Ryan's mouth expressions alone.

Kate & Leopold certainly helped cement Hugh Jackman as a leading man in the hearts of many women. It's a light, enjoyable movie - and thus a pretty good romantic comedy. I happily give the movie 3.5 accidents that Stuart gets involved in out of 5.

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