Writer and director James Mangold has been on the up for decades; he’s just taken over the helm of the Indiana Jones franchise, and his increasingly tough-nut Wolverine films with star Hugh Jackman are adored by fans of the comic-book character. But let’s rewind to where that working relationship started, with the lightweight rom-com time-travel romance Kate & Leopold, which feels like it was made in a different Hollywood era but actually comes from 2001. This Miramax production was in post when Sept 11th happened, and such frothy fun didn’t quite work for an audience with changing needs; an exhuming reveals a truly bizzaro entry in the decline of the humble rom-com.
Jackman brings oodles of his Greatest Showman pizzazz to the role of Leopold, Duke of Albany, a playboy who lives back in 1876. He spots an interloper in the form of Stuart Besser (Liev Schrieber), a time-traveller from the future, who is using a miniature camera to record the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Leopold follows Besser through a interdimensional portal in time that leads them to 2001, with unforeseen consequences. Leopold had just invented the elevator, causing Besser to have an unhappy accident when every elevator in NYC falls down due to him not existing; that’s how science works, right? We haven’t got to Besser’s ex, Kate (Meg Ryan) who somehow lives in the same building as Besser and his actor brother (Yes, it’s Garfield 2 star Breckin Meyer!); it’s no big surprise when Kate & Leopold fall for each other, but can a long distance relationship work when the couple were born over a century apart?
Kate & Leopold is a unique film in that the plot hinges on the protagonist’s ability to convincingly front commercials for butter; that’s as serious as turn-of-the-century rom-coms needed to be back then. There’s also a seriously over-qualified cast at work here; Kristen Schaal is a debutante, Natasha Lyonne as Kate’s gal-pal, and even Viola Davis gets into the mix, even if her policewoman character doesn’t have a name. ‘Are you suggesting madam that there exists a law compelling a gentleman to lay hold of canine bowel movements? asks Jackman in a typically loquacious line. ‘I’m suggesting that you pick the poop up,’ responds future Oscar-winner Davis, and that’s comedy circa 2001.
They don’t make films like Kate & Leopold anymore; I’m not sure they ever did. This is one of these dreamy Hollywood confections that never touches any kind of identifiable reality for a second. Pretty much everyone involved went onto better things, and probably feel happier leaving this froth off their resumes; the most surprising aspect is the railing against couch-casting culture in a film produced by one H Weinstein, and some weird ranting about test audience screenings from Ryan’s marketing whizz, plus hints of an incest subplot that’s only in the director’s cut for good reason. Kate & Leopold’s contrived shenanigans were quickly forgotten soon after release, but fans of bad movies and misapplied charm should find this right up their interdimensional portals.