Sunday, November 29, 2015

Kate & Leopold (2001)

Director: James Mangold                              Writers: James Mangold & Steven Rogers
Film Score: Rolfe Kent                                  Cinematography: Stuart Dryburgh
Starring: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Breckin Meyer

While Meg Ryan was still a bankable romantic comedy star in 2001 she was clearly at the end of her run when she made Kate & Leopold, and was playing moms within a couple of years. Though forty years old at the time, she still looked great, with the exception of the collagen injections she insisted on getting in her lips. It completely destroyed her looks. Not like the nose job that Jennifer Gray had done that made her look different, but more like the face jobs that actually make actresses ugly. Written and directed by James Mangold, the film is a fantasy of an English nobleman who is accidentally transported forward in time and falls in love with a modern American woman. Mangold does a terrific job in writing a comedy that, while it could easily have spilled over into camp, skillfully treads the line and holds on to a thin thread of believability. The primary reason for that is Hugh Jackman. At no point does he allow the comedy to digress, and embodies his role in the best of ways. Unfortunately Meg Ryan doesn’t fare as well, but she wasn’t right for the part in the first place. The stressed out advertising executive doesn’t really come across in the film and everything about her performance seems out of place. It’s a shame, because the film had a lot more potential than it delivers, and in spite of a Golden Globe winning performance by Jackman it ends up being just an average romantic comedy.

The film begins with the dedication of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1876. Hugh Jackman is drawing a picture of the event while women stare at him, and Liev Schreiber is writing a news story on the event. But when Schreiber pulls out a small camera Jackman becomes intrigued, but Schreiber disappears on him. Later Jackman is revealed to be a European nobleman with no money, searching for a nouveau riche American bride. But not really. He wants to be an inventor, and finds the life of a nobleman a sham in an era of such ingenuity. At the dance that evening he spies Schreiber taking pictures again, and this time chases after him on horseback, climbs up the scaffolding on the bridge, and accidentally falls through a time portal with him. Next the scene shifts to Meg Ryan in an elevator that isn’t working correctly. Schreiber is her upstairs neighbor, and also her ex-boyfriend, and she is still bitter about the breakup. Even when he tells her what happened, she doesn’t believe him. After meeting Jackman next day, she still isn’t convinced, but when Schreiber falls down the broken elevator shaft, Ryan takes it upon herself to take him out to walk the dog and then abandons him. For Jackman’s part, the inventor in him is too fascinated by modern inventions to actually be afraid. With Schreiber in the hospital, and a week before the portal opens again, Jackman is essentially on his own.

Meanwhile, Meg Ryan is a go-getter at an advertising agency, with Bradley Whitford as her boss. He’s attracted to her because she doesn’t act like a typical woman, and he dangles a promotion in front of her to get her into bed. Ryan’s brother also shows up, an actor who is convinced that Jackman is an actor as well because of his personality. Though Jackman acclimates well to the future, his morality and manner stay intact, and Ryan is inevitably--though still guardedly--drawn to him. The rest of the film is fairly complex in plotting and, to its credit, not entirely predictable. The comedy is broad, in order to attract a larger audience, but not to excess. The worst of the principal actors is certainly Breckin Meyer as Ryan’s brother, but there are also some great actors in bit parts. Doing a wonderful job in a small role as a rich girl from 19th Century New York is Kristen Schaal in her first film, most well known as a semi-regular reporter on The Daily Show. Viola Davis also puts in a nice appearance as a beat cop, ticketing Jackman for not “laying hold of canine bowel movements.” But Philip Bosco is wasted as Jackman’s valet, as he is only in a couple of scenes. The final disappointment is Rolfe Kent's score. While he is usually one of my favorite film composers, his music here is not very memorable. Ultimately, Kate & Leopold might not be a great romcom, but it’s certainly worth a look, especially for fans of Jackman.

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