I'm sure Meg Ryan is a really nice person. Okay, there's my disclaimer, now onto my review. A Meg Ryan movie about time travel... a Meg Ryan movie about time travel... a Meg Ryan movie about time travel. Repeat this idea with me a couple of times and you will see the absurdity of it in her new film with Hugh Jackman, Kate & Leopold, directed by James Mongold.
I remember in my first-year film class, we were discussing a wonderful romantic comedy called Next Stop Wonderland, which starred a pair of lesser-known actors and was collectively enjoyed by the class. This class proceeded to turn into a Meg Ryan-bashing session. It's not that I doubt Meg Ryan can play characters that don't seriously get under my skin, it's just that I have never seen her as one. Even when it is not romantic comedy that her apple-pie-sugary-gooey-sweetiepie face is gracing, I just can't sympathize with her characters. I have tried, but I just can't. It is no different this time in Kate & Leopold. Ryan plays Kate, a poor little marketing executive who is so unlucky in love that she has fully immersed herself within her high-stress job. Her neighbor is her evasive, yet highly intelligent ex-boyfriend, Stuart (Liev Schreiber), who discovers a crack in the time-space continuum or something that enables him to travel back and forth in time. Personally, I would have preferred more explanation as to how this would work, but the entire actual concept of "time travel" is rather clumsily glossed over.
On Stuart's trial trip, he finds himself in 19th-century New York. On his way back to the present, however, his Great Great Grandfather Leopold (Jackman - who happens to be the future inventor of the elevator), follows him through the time warp only to wake up in 21st-century New York. The inevitable hilarity ensues as Leopold discovers telephones, televisions, and the fact that it is the law that he has to pick up dog feces.
Initially Kate believes that Leopold is just a stupid friend of her equally stupid boyfriend and pretty much belittles both of them in a manner that could serve as an explanation as to why she is so unlucky romantically. When an accident that is an indirect result of Leopold's time leap sidelines Stuart, Kate takes over watch of Leopold and slowly begins to suspect that his crazy story might be true - a gradual K-PAXian type of acceptance. You see, Leopold's 19th-century gentility greatly impresses Kate who is used to "insensitive" guys like Stuart, and surprisingly a romance begins to blossom between them. But what will happen to Stuart (or the rest of mankind for that matter) if Leopold does not return to where he is supposed to be from? While this question could be the most interesting aspect of the film, it only succeeds as such if you don't think about it too much.
One beacon of light here is Brecklin Meyer's comically effective, but nonetheless sincere Charlie, Kate's brother who seeks beneficial romantic advice from the chivalrous Leopold. The individual interaction between Charlie and Kate, Charlie and Leopold, and Charlie and Stuart are by far the most honest in the film, and thus, easiest to watch without squirming in your seat or rolling your eyes. Jackson's portrayal of Leopold is good considering what he was working with. His gentile charm is certainly clear as he stands when a women leaves the table or romantically describes various culinary cuisines, but it does get kind of irritating after awhile. The idea of someone who is that nice and proper is best if taken in very small, sporadic doses.
I really cannot say the idea behind the film is bad. It plays with the idea of fate, which seems to hold an intrinsically endearing fairy-tale quality. The biggest problem is not even that the story is so predictable, but it is not engaging to the audience. The various stories here are developed with such little substance that it is impossible to feel any of the emotions the characters are feeling, and this characteristic is extremely important in order to have an effective romantic comedy.
As I mentioned earlier, the whole idea of time travel and the consequences of it is barely touched. While it would have probably made the story at least marginally more interesting, I can see that time travel is simply the means to the "romantic comedy" end - put together two people who would probably never get together. The problem is that the fundamental relationship in the film (between Kate and Leopold) does not get developed. Rather, it just seems to all of a sudden exist. It feels as though one minute they are engaged in an ongoing sarcastic battle of wits, and then the next they are utterly and hopelessly in love. Considering Leopold is supposed to be such a gentleman, he sure doesn't waste any time with Kate.
The whole ending of Kate & Leopold is awkward, complete with a speech so tedious that it would make a valedictorian going through a voice change blush. Even though I was not upset the film was over, it did wrap up far too quickly considering all of the emotions that should have been involved. Not that it really mattered though. Kate & Leopold never really lets the audience in, so if it all of a sudden did at the end, it would make even less sense than it already does.