Lovers Break Time Barrier
“Love conquers all,” William Shakespeare once wrote. Or was it Mae West? I’m not sure, but in Kate and Leopold, a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, even the barrier of living in different historical periods is overcome by true love. Being a sucker for stories like this, I enjoyed practically everything about it. An amusing time-travel theme plus Jackman in his dashing Duke’s uniform and Ryan looking as perky as ever --- what more could an incurable romantic ask for?
So what if the plot is far-fetched. Remember, this is a modern fairy tale, and anything goes in the world of fantasy. The hunky Jackman plays Duke Leopold, a charming bachelor of the late-1800s who must choose a wealthy bride because of his family’s loss of fortune. Ryan is Kate McKay, a stressed-out career woman in present day New York City. When Kate’s ex-boyfriend (Liev Schreiber from Scream 3) discovers a rip in the fabric of time and visits the New York of another century, he unwittingly brings Leopold back with him. In spite of their differences, Kate and Leopold fall in love.
Ever since seeing Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men, I’ve been certain he’s destined for stardom. His dynamic screen presence and deep sexy voice serve him well in his chosen profession. And he can act too! The Australian-born thespian has already earned a well-deserved 2001 Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for his work in Kate and Leopold. Director James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted) says he wanted Jackman for this role because he’s an amazing actor. “He just has the essence of great movie stars of the past,” Mangold declares. “There are times that you can see Errol Flynn or Cary Grant in him.” Yes, indeed.
Ryan, who can do romantic comedy without even trying, is perfectly cast as Kate. With her clipped delivery and flawless timing, she’s much more convincing here than as the worried wife in Proof of Life, a heavy drama co-starring Russell Crowe. One complaint though. Ryan’s uneven haircut, a style so popular with celebrity women today, makes Kate look more like a street urchin than a successful research executive.
Watching a relationship develop between Kate and Leopold that mirrors the differences between the Victorian Age and the Digital Age was great fun for me. Is there any contemporary woman who wouldn’t fall under the spell of Leopold’s courtly behavior? Here’s a man accustomed to standing when a woman leaves the table, one who even knows the meaning of flowers. “The orange lily implies extreme hatred. The begonia and lavender, danger and suspicion,” he explains. Men, keep this in mind the next time you order flowers for your sweetheart. According to Leopold, it’s best to stick with roses.
Jackman seems to personify the virtues of the Duke’s world. But Leopold's protective attitude irritates Kate at first and produces some of the film’s most amusing scenes. “I don’t have time for speeches from 200 year-old men who have never had to work a day in their lives,” she insists. When Leopold shows up at a dinner Kate’s having with her boss (Bradley Whitford of t.v.’s West Wing) and accuses him of ungentlemanly conduct, Ryan scrunches up her face in a priceless expression --- achieving an almost impossible look of appreciation and anger combined.
One of the film’s surprise treats involves Breckin Meyer’s (Road Trip) hilarious performance as Charlie, Kate’s brother, who bonds with Leopold because he thinks the Duke is just an actor practicing his craft. “You are so method, Leo!” he tells his new role model. Charlie, who reluctantly follows Leopold’s old-fashioned advice about how to get a woman’s attention, can’t believe it works so well.
While not action-packed like many movies with time-travel themes including Back to the Future and The Visitors, Kate and Leopold features similar “what if” whimsy. But, because Leopold is an inventor, he reacts to his new environment with more curiosity than fear. He even tries to improve on such modern conveniences as the toaster. Without giving away the ending, I’d like to see a sequel showing Kate, a woman used to modern conveniences, adapting to life in the late 1800s. Would she survive with no cell phone? That might be a very funny movie too.
(Released by Miramax and rated “PG-13” for brief strong language.)