‘Kate & Leopold – The Director’s Cut’: Alas, Time Is Not on Their Side

If there was one thing the forgettable 2001 romantic comedy Kate & Leopold didn’t need was five extra minutes, let alone a brand new insubstantial director’s cut Blu-ray edition. Yet here we are, being reminded that at one point in the early ’00s Meg Ryan was a bigger name on the title card than Hugh Jackman. Why? Well, I don’t rightly remember.

Her role as the titular Kate does little to enlighten us. Playing the stereotypical career woman who’s too busy to even believe in a love life, Ryan never pulls her character out of the clichéd form in which she was created. It’s as if there’s a cut out for these kind of characters that goes something like this…

Phase 1 – Anger

20-30 minutes, at the beginning of the film

• Bitter, cold, and closed off to love

• Smokes occasionally

• Thinks she likes her job, but really hates it

• Short with family and friends who just want to help out

• Not fun

Phase 2 – Confusion

40-50 minutes, in the middle of the film

• “Is he for real? No…he can’t be. Can he?”

• Something complicates her life, usually the appearance of a handsome gentleman who’s unlike any other man she’s ever met

• “He’s so nice he has to be mean. Yeah…has to be. I’ll just keep being a bitch until he REALLY proves he’s not a jerk.”

• Starts to listen to her family and/or friends a little. Still skeptical.

• Let’s down her guard a little, showing she can be fun (this trust is usually betrayed, either just in her mind or in actuality)

Phase 3 – Acceptance

1-20 minutes, at the end of the film

• Hooray! She’s in love! All problems are solved!

• Career is abandoned, or at least takes a back seat to her new man.

• Family and/or friends are happy because their friend is happy (you know, because she’s got a man).

Forgive me if this seems cynical, jaded, or unfair, but I think audiences have matured past this kind of impractical fairy tale. The above traits apply to most of Ryan’s characters, but Kate & Leopold was released in 2001, not 1989 (When Harry Met Sally…, a film wise enough not to get involved with the romantic duo’s professional life) or even 1993 (Sleepless in Seattle) when audiences were looking for escapism and escapism only.

In Ryan’s last financially successful film, 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, America’s sweetheart played a bookstore owner who was being driven out of business by a corporate megastore. Of course, she unknowingly fell in love with her business rival, and the movie ends (SPOILERS, even though it has been 14 years…) with the two embracing. Yet Ryan doesn’t have a job. Her store, which was established by her mother, is closed without hope of reopening. Audiences are supposed to leave feeling warm and fuzzy about her spending the rest of her days as the content housewife of her one percent husband?

It’s a ridiculous notion when you spend more than a minute dwelling on it, but most romantic films don’t ask you to engage that much. Well, things have changed. Now, women don’t have to settle for love or a career. They can have both, and the best of today’s rom-coms demonstrate this. Whether it’s Carrie Bradshaw’s successful columnist-turned-author in Sex and the City or Katherine Heigl’s E! news anchor in Knocked Up, success for today’s film heroines is defined by more than just finding a man to take care of them.

Granted, this isn’t the only problem with Kate and Leopold, but it does illustrate the film’s main issue – it doesn’t age well. It didn’t adapt to the time it was released in, and it didn’t grow into itself either. Kate’s a cardboard cutout so ’80s-era generic that it’s impossible to identify with, now. Leopold is a slightly more two-dimensional prince (well, duke really) because, well, he doesn’t have any problems. Sure, he’s lost in time, but he’ll be getting home soon enough.

Perhaps the only thing Kate & Leopold is good for is as a relic, exiting only to remind us of the mistakes of the past.

Meg – this was your downfall. You couldn’t adapt with the changing times, and your shtick as the charming girl next door eventually wore out.

Hugh – I hope this helped you land more roles, because this is exactly the kind of role you should be avoiding. It’s beneath your considerable talents as a showman.

James Mangold, director – what on earth were you thinking? Cop Land? Great! Identity? Fun! Walk the Line? Okay! But this? Where did this come from? Oh well, we all make mistakes.

The special features include two making-of featurettes, feature commentary by Mangold, and deleted scenes, also with optional commentary by the director. I’m a little shocked a rom-com over two hours long has deleted scenes, but there’s plenty included here. Most are irrelevant and short, but the first and last hold a slight degree of importance, including an incestual tie-in I was thinking about during the film’s finalé. The On-Set Featurette is a whopping 14 minutes long and includes cast and and crew interviews – standard stuff, but all that could really be expected from a studio picture like this. The Costumes Featurette is only three minutes long, and pretty expendable.

Finally, if you want to watch the Sting music video included on the disc, your problems are far too serious for me to get into right now.

RATING 2 / 10