WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: About to be coerced into marriage in late 19th Century New York, the Duke of Albany follows an incongruous stranger into the bustle of the present day. The Duke discovers his values are out of keeping with modern ethics, but also finds a mutual attraction with a jaded marketing executive. Can their romance span the gap in time?
Hugh Jackman plays Leopold, Duke of Albany, whose curiosity leads him into the 21st Century and a meeting with newly-single marketing guru Kate McKay (Meg Ryan). With these stars you expect great things from Miramax’s romantic comedy with a touch of fantasy, but in a crowded market the film falls a good deal short of fantastic.
Suspension of disbelief is vital to films of the Kate and Leopold variety, and as such there is no problem accepting that Stuart (Liev Schreiber) – Kate’s ex, living in the flat above hers – has exploited a ‘natural window of time’ to travel into the past and back again. What I do have a problem with is how the device is used. Leopold reputedly invented the elevator and his transportation in time suddenly leads to the world’s elevators disappearing; but if the lift/elevator has never been invented, why would anybody bother making lift shafts for them to go up and down in? Also, Stuart warns, Back to the Future–style, about the dire consequences for the Duke if he doesn’t return to his own time to get married or have children, yet we never find out what these might be. And don’t get me started on the fact that Stuart takes photos of the 19th Century ball where Leopold is due to announce his bride, yet completely fails to notice that his neighbour and ex-girlfriend is standing in the room in modern dress and hair. I’d like to nit-pick, too, about the ‘Speed of Gravity’ required to travel through the portal, but that’s a discussion for elsewhere, as is the plethora of historical inaccuracies that pepper the script.
So much for the fantasy. The romantic element is okay but we don’t really get much of a feeling that Kate is lovelorn, having only broken up with Stuart a month before the film begins. She is not presented as sympathetic – she freely admits that her job involves lying – and the script doesn’t help us to warm to her, as her first five minutes are spent mainly saying “Palm Pilot” (remember those? Me neither). The film relies almost completely on Leopold’s old-fashioned gallantry to move the romance along.
And the comedy? Kate and Leopold, with its entrances through windows and clumsy reference to its soundtrack, is obviously in thrall to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but James Mangold’s screenplay lacks of any of that film’s edge or wit. The script is lazy and constructed by the book, featuring many familiar aspects of romantic comedy, but without any personality to distinguish it. For example, there’s a dog, but apart from a lame joke featuring its poo it does nothing but bark which quickly becomes tiresome, especially when combined with the sound of a smoke alarm. Also, there’s a random kid from next door who visits Stuart’s flat: but instead of making cute quips and having a pivotal role in the couple’s happiness as you might expect, he has a small part in one scene – and is never seen again! What is the point? A joke about erections, Ryan missing a chair and pouring coffee on herself, that’s about the level of humour. Otherwise it comes from Jackman’s reaction to the roughness of modern life, where the Duke is the embodiment of the gentleman: gentle, chivalrous, honest as the day is long and a dab hand in the kitchen. Leopold is also assigned a role mentoring Kate’s annoying brother Charlie in the ways of love, although this is another story strand that goes nowhere.
It’s terribly disrespectful to call anyone a no-mark actor, but this is the only description that comes to mind to describe the supporting cast. Neither Breckin Meyer as Charlie nor Bradley Whitford playing Kate’s boss JJ make much of a mark on the film. This is not to say the leads shine: Schreiber as the much-abused Stuart is not an engaging presence, and his discovery of time travel is barely credible, his genius lazily indicated by the large number of books in his flat. That said, he does deliver a nice speech when (predictably) sectioned in the hospital. Meg Ryan, pre-lip work, doesn’t look her best and barely wakes up throughout; only Jackman displays any class, easily pulling off the aristocratic charm required of the role.
All in all, Kate and Leopold is a flaccid film, despite the fact that New York looks nice in both time periods and Jackman does well as Leopold. It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into writing his part, and it’s a shame that as much time wasn’t spent on the rest of the characters; with a sharper script, the film could have been much more than a nice idea indifferently executed.