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Kate & Leopold (2001) – DVD Review



Written by: James Mangold and Steven Rogers
Directed by: James Mangold
Starring: Meg Ryan, Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Breckin Meyer, Natasha Lyonne


  • Commentary by director James Mangold
  • Original Theatrical Version and Director’s Cut
  • Deleted Scenes With Commentary
  • “On The Set” Featurette
  • Sting “Until” Music Video
  • Photo Gallery
  • Costume Featurette
  • English Audio
  • French Audio on the Director’s Cut
  • Spanish subtitles

Released by: Miramax
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: Yep. Presented in 1.85:1 AR, enhanced for 16×9 TVs

My Advice: Rent it.

[ad#longpost]Viewers expect a certain level of seriousness and artistry from Mangold of Girl, Interrupted fame, but do we get it in Kate & Leopold? Well, yes and no. If you look at the surface of the film, you see an ordinary romantic comedy: charming enough, but awfully silly in places and even knowingly cliché. But if you look below the surface, to what the director is trying to say here, you’ll see more than this–a kind of commentary on romance in the modern world, as juxtaposed with an idealized past, where chivalry, honor, and grace still meant something. Kate & Leopold seems to ask what we have lost in the modern world, as we were gaining other, albeit important, things.

Kate & Leopold begins in 1876, as Stuart (Schreiber), a modern-day inventor, reaps the fruits of his discovery–that the space-time continuum has flaws, and it is possible to follow these flaws into the past. In New York of 1876, Stuart finds his ancestor, Leopold, the Duke of Albany (Jackman), who accidentally follows Stuart home to Manhattan, 2001. As Leopold adjusts to life in the modern era, he meets Kate (Ryan), Stuart’s upstairs neighbour and former girlfriend. If Leopold is the romantic ideal, Kate is his antithesis–a hard-hearted businesswoman, she is almost sickened by love stories and faery tales. The balance of the film follows Kate and Leopold as they learn about each other’s worlds and, of course, more about themselves.

Ryan beautifully manages to convey her cynicism without being too irritating or irredeemable. Jackman is the soul of a gentleman–graceful, witty, and solid. But the real stand-out performances are turned in by the secondary characters. Breckin Meyer as Ryan’s brother Charlie and Liev Schreiber as Stuart nearly steal every scene in which they appear. Schreiber’s crowning moment is perhaps the scene in the asylum where he lays out his theory, and along with it his heart, to his nurse; beautiful and simple, Schreiber shines here. Natasha Lyonne as Kate’s assistant is equally effective in her scenes, playing off Kate without being melodramatic or soppy. The acting saves what could be a simpleminded script from being so, and hints at the deeper things going on here. Does Kate really have to be so closed up to succeed in a man’s world? Will Charlie succeed in adapting Leopold’s ageless manners to his own search for love? Will Stuart learn to believe in himself and his vision? Follow the theme of “love is a leap” as it progresses both figuratively and literally throughout the film.

Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman

The features list is wonderful. Mangold’s commentary does an excellent job of explaining the decisions he made as he went along, including why he cut the included deleted scenes–a great bonus. It always helps to know why a director did what he or she did, especially in a film that could be misunderstood or under-rated. The stills gallery is also nice, presenting many images from the key moments of the film and showing off the actors to perfection. It’s great to have both the director’s cut and the original theatrical release, not only for comparison, which is great, but also for variety and personal choice. I cannot say enough about how nice it is to have the two featurettes included, as well, even as short as the costume featurette is. Would that more movies would take a cue from this, particularly movies such as this one, where costuming was key.

Kate & Leopold on some levels plays like one of the finely tuned target-market productions Kate, the marketing genius, is reviewing in the beginning of the movie: take one titled handsome man with morals and manners, mix in a goofy scientist and a lonely, love-starved heroine along with her sidekick brother, and mix. But it’s that knowing quality that saves the film from being mere schlock and points to some of the issues the the director discusses in the commentary. We haven’t become more sophisticated (Victorians were pretty bloody sophisticated), we’ve just become more cynical. What did we lose with our innocence? Could what we gained have come at a lesser price? Why are we as a culture embarrassed by romance, a thing of beauty, and determined to starve ourselves of all sensory luxury? Have we given up on personal honour, integrity, and codes of conduct, busy instead mocking the “boy scouts” of our lives?

Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan (and a horse)

In short, Kate & Leopold is everything a good romantic comedy should be, but so rarely is–both romantic and funny. No, the movie isn’t much of a surprise, but then we don’t watch romances (or most other movies) for the surprise ending, do we? The fun is in how the hero and heroine get together, and what we learn along the way. The film may raise more questions than some others of its ilk, but leaves the viewers to answer these questions themselves. Fans of science fiction might be intrigued by the time slip element, but may ultimately be disappointed by the relatively small amount of screen-time devoted to it, although Schreiber’s scene where he describes his beautifully simple theory to nurse Gretchen is amazing. Besides, the film almost works as a primer on romancing women; anyone who thinks they could use a little help in that department could learn a great deal simply by watching this film and how everyman Charlie adapts some of Leopold’s best moves for the modern era. I know, I know, we’re Gen X; we’re “above” all this love stuff and don’t believe in a man’s word as his bond. Care about something…it won’t kill you.

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