By Marc S. Sanders
Fish out of water stories will always be told. Kate & Leopold directed by James Mangold reminded me of the New York City based romantic comedy Big, which was a better variation on that formula.
In Kate & Leopold, Hugh Jackman portrays the second title character also known as the Duke of Albany in the year 1876, and apparently the eventual inventor of the elevator. One night, he pursues a curious fellow who is attending an evening ball designed to find a bride for Leopold. The man runs and Leopold gives chase into the rain where they find themselves hanging from scaffolding of what will become the Brooklyn Bridge, designed by-you guessed it-Leopold. The moment of suspense ends with Leopold accompanying the fellow named Stuart (a very miscast Liev Schrieber) into present day New York; a New York unfamiliar to Leopold where manners of grace and elegance have gone out the window and you’re expected to pick up your dog’s poop following a walk.
Let’s get this out of the way, quick. Stuart has uncovered time travel. How does it work? Who cares? Move along.
Stuart’s ex-girlfriend and downstairs neighbor is played by the late 20th century staple resident of the Big Apple movies, Meg Ryan. She’s the Kate of the film’s title. Just like other romantic comedies of this nature, Kate is tense and stressed and trying to land a big account where she’s looking for the right spokesperson for a new butter spread commercial. You think Leopold, in his signature 19th century outfit, may fit the bill? I’m thinking you guessed correctly.
What else do you think happens? Yeah. You’re right. Kate and Leopold start to fall in love.
I grew tired of Kate & Leopold for a few reasons. There’s a side story meant for some slapstick kind of humor where Stuart, who is the “Doc Brown” of this picture, falls down an elevator shaft only to be relegated to a mental ward where he struggles to get in touch with the leads to explain what must be done from here. C’mon!!! A patient in a hospital should be able to make a lousy phone call.
Two, as Leopold romances Kate as well as coaches her brother (Breckin Meyer) in the ways of romance, how does he manage to find the financial resources for a violinist or the decor he uses to uphold his manners of refine? Reader, if I’m occupying myself with these trivial questions, then what do you think might be wrong here?
Most importantly, the chemistry between Ryan and Jackman seems way off. I didn’t believe for a second these two were falling in love with one another. They speak two different variations of English and while Leopold is a man of great chivalry, I never found a moment in the film where he would be captivated by the modern-day Kate. What did Kate do anywhere in this picture that swept him off his feet? For Kate, when did she fall in love with Leopold? She’s hardly giving him the time of day and he’s really only a convenient opportunity to rescue her big account, but that’s not love for me. That’s not romance. That’s, at best, discovery. Like finding the next big talent or gimmick. If this is what love is, then who fell in love with Mr. Clean and how many years is the Jolly Green Giant married now? Did the Kool-Aid Man find his betrothed when he smashed through her kitchen wall?
In Big, director Penny Marshall found opportunities for the Elizabeth Perkins character to stop and look at the 12-year-old character version of Tom Hanks. Because she stopped and looked, she then still felt comfortable in her own skin. Hanks’ kid like character develops a first crush. A first crush may not be love, but to a 12-year-old, nothing is more confusing or self-occupying.
In Mangold’s film which he co-wrote with Steve Rogers, Leopold admits early on that he’s never been in love. Where’s the weight of his emotions here? I never uncovered those moments between the characters of Kate & Leopold, while a film like Big devoted a wealth of attention to it.
As well, like I said earlier, I could not take my mind off figuring out how Leopold is paying for this elegant rooftop dinner. Where did he get the money, in New York City, to pay for all this?
Know what Tom Hanks did in Big? He got a job!