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Kate and Leopold
Reviewed by Dev Stern, ©

Format: Movie
By:   James Mangold (writer, director)
Genre:   Fantasy / Romance
Released:   Released December 25, 2001
Review Date:  
Audience Rating:   Rated PG-13
RevSF Rating:   7/10 (What Is This?)

While Kate & Leopold may not have seemed terribly threatening in trailers, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon when the name is mentioned: People flee. Even among the brave souls who comprise the staff of RevolutionSF, no one would come forward and offer to review the movie. This naturally interested me, and drew me to the film.

So, when it was my choice for New Year's Eve movie to see, I skipped blithely over Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Vanilla Sky and A Beautiful Mind, and made a stubbornly perverse choice: Kate & Leopold. Though my not-so-domestic partner was not precisely excited at the choice, I did manage to drag her along with promises to see The Royal Tennebaums the next day.

Lest you think I have my priorities disordered, I would like to note for the record that we had already seen the glorious Lord of the Rings with our kids the previous week.

My partner, a member of the Director's Guild who seems to remember everyone in the movies, kindly reminded me that Leopold was played by Hugh Jackman, whom we had seen in the X-Men. Quite cheered by this, since I had enjoyed watching the Australian actor with his Chia Pet side burns play Wolverine, I settled down to watch. Not even the wickedly amused look in her eyes could disrupt my enthusiasm.

London Bridge is just being built as the story opens, and the writer/director, James Mangold (Girl Interrupted) and co-writer Steven Rogers decide to make their only (Thank the Goddess) slapstick joke in this first scene. It involves the British versus the American use of the word 'erection', and is repeated several times over in this scene. This was not an auspicious beginning, but things promptly improved, and I forgave both writers for the lame joke, even when they repeated it once later on in the movie.

Leopold is an 18th century Duke who enjoys inventing things - like an elevator prototype - more than heeding all of the mind-bendingly dull social obligations his rank carries with it. Kate is contemporary New York businesswoman with ambitions to be a senior vice president at the marketing firm she works at.

Leopold follows a strange man he notices several times throughout the day (Kate's ex-boyfriend, played by Liev Schreiber), and unwittingly ends up in the 21st century. I have to say 'unwittingly', because who would come here on purpose? He awakes in the apartment above Kate's, where the adventure begins.

No, it's not as rich a fantasy as LadyHawk, nor is it as amusing a madcap romp as Bringing Up Baby, but it definitely has its moments, and they almost all involve Leopold. He is, of course, surprised by being in 'the future', but he doesn't spend all of his time gawking and making a long series of mistakes. Leopold is an inventor in his time, and soon his curiosity and intelligence have prevailed, and he's mastered the basics of his new time period.

There's a running theme about all of the elevators not working as time gets disrupted, which plays slyly behind the scenes as almost its own subplot. The Duke's valet is named Otis, which would explain why so many modern day elevators have that name. You'll probably also never look at tater tots and microwave meals quite the same again, and a scene where he gallops through Central Park was a delightful visual treat as the two time periods juxtaposed.

Meg Ryan has a more difficult time as the 'anti-princess'. She only manages not to look completely self-absorbed and shallow when we first meet her because her brother (played by Breckin Meyer), and ex-boyfriend are both vying for that honor. She does not believe in fairy tales at all, and it is interesting to watch her slowly become a believer in something other than corporate ladder climbing.

Some people have argued that the fantasy portions of the film involving time travel were weak. I felt that the time travel explanation was as convincing as any other I've heard or read. Obviously, if proof-positive that time travel exists is the reason why you're seeing a fantasy movie, you need help.

Normally, I don't have much to say about costuming, but since this movie does involve time travel and different time periods, I will make several comments.

The first is that both their wardrobes were excellent. They each conveyed their appropriate time period. Jackman came off as heroic in cream-colored breeches and blue and gold braid laden tails. Ryan's wardrobe looked professional, without being 'office slut' or unrelentingly severe. However, she does win the award for the worst hair in two centuries. I am sure she spent a lot of money on it, but it had dark roots, unnatural layering, and fell in her eyes the entire movie.

As I left the movie, quite pleasantly entertained and cheerful, my partner sidled up to me and said, "Do you know what Meg Ryan is?"

Of course she knows that I could tell her that the dog in the movie was an Anatolian Shepherd, but that I tend to not be able to recognize actors and actresses without cue cards, so I had to reply, "No."

"She is the Queen of Date Movies. THAT was a date movie."

I stopped in my tracks and blinked at her uneasily. Now I knew why she'd had that strange gleam in her eyes before the movie started. "No, it was a fantasy. I hate date movies!" I blurted.

"Did you see When Harry Met Sally or You've Got Mail?" she asked, with that same smile lurking again. It was a trick question since she knew I had seen them both and not liked them, so I didn't reply.

"Both of them were the dreaded Date Movie, and both had Meg Ryan in them," she announced triumphantly, and exited the theater.

So perhaps some people are considering this a date movie, rather than as a fantasy/romance. If so, then I think Kate & Leopold may be the movie equivalent of those weekly newspaper rags sold in grocery stores that no one claims to subscribe to. Amazingly, those newspapers are all still in business, and also amazingly, Kate & Leopold grossed just over 22 million dollars in deep competition the first week. Whatever genre it was, I enjoyed it, and would definitely consider owning it. It's a movie for those moments when you want to go someplace else, where, as Leopold said, "The rhythm is slower." I am definitely ready. Sign me up for a slower, gentler 2002.


-RevSF contributor M. Dev Stern deserved that "it's a date movie" comeuppance. Because anyone who turns up their nose at When Harry Met Sally should get some sort of… well something with an uppance in it.

 
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