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Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Somebody get Meg out of there fast

Kate and Leopold

Rating: * * *
Director: James Mangold
Running time: 121 minutes
Language: English
Opens in early June at Hibiya Scala-za and other theaters

What Meg Ryan needs is a nice, pampering grandmother, one with a small, cozy house (in the family for three generations) in, say, Nantucket or Chesapeake. Keeps two Labradors. Usually wears LL Bean but dresses in black lace when the occasion calls. It is into the arms of this person that Meg Ryan should fall and say: "Oh Grandma, I hate the world. I'm tired, I'm single, I don't know where my career is going!"

News photo
Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan in "Kate and Leopold"

Grandma will make soothing shhh sounds, lead her into the kitchen and pour two large teas. "All right, child" she would say when Meg had calmed down a little. "Tell Grandma all about it."

I mean, isn't this what Meg deserves? She's one of the most hardworking people in Hollywood but while others in her weight class get to do serious, artsy, risque roles that lead to front-page interviews in Cahier du Cinema, Meg remains trapped in the same old role of cute, perky heroine who finds her true love exactly 12 1/2 minutes before the closing credits.

And get this: it's always with some weird guy. Consider her past partners: a guy whom she doesn't know, never spoke to and who is still pining for his dead wife ("Sleepless in Seattle"). Or an oily Frenchman with hygiene problems and a criminal record ("French Kiss"). An angel wearing Armani ("City of Angels") who is invisible to everyone but her. And the latest truly takes the cake: The Duke of Albany circa 1876. And he has grave financial problems.

The title role she plays in "Kate and Leopold" (and have you noticed that Kate is a recurring name for her?) is the kind of character she can play blindfolded and dangling from a cliff. Thirtysomething, bad relationship, good career, independent, smart, great wardrobe comprised mainly of Prada . . . You get the picture. Kate is drawn to Leopold (Hugh Jackman), a handsome aristocrat from a past century, who has mistakenly wandered into New York, 2001. Leopold falls for Kate, who is so radically different from the boring young ladies of his class and era. They are exotic and irresistible to each other. Leopold does things like write her a romantic but polite love note with a quill pen, in flawless 19th-century handwriting. Then he sets up a dinner on the rooftop of her apartment, complete with flowers and a violinist he picked off the street.

Somehow though, one remains sad for Meg. One starts thinking: The guy probably charged the whole thing on her card because he didn't have a red cent. But being mature and financially successful, she'd no doubt pay the bill and not even mention it.

Lots of career women are like her, generous and spunky, able to shrug off a lot of things. Consider how her manipulating, marketing exec boss (Bradley Whitford) says things like "You're a rarity among women because you don't act like a woman. You don't play cute, you don't cozy up, you don't let your emotions take over" to commend her work performance, then hints at a promotion and a liaison at the same time. Does she get miffed? Nope. As she later explains to Leopold, she's been working for a long time, she's tired and she needs a rest. "And if a little acting is going to get me that rest, then that's what I'll do!"

Unfortunately, Leopold is totally turned off. She should have said this to Grandma, because men (from whatever century) don't understand hardworking career women. If they did, Meg wouldn't be in predicaments where she has to date angels and dukes for a little solace.

Director James Mangold ("Girl, Interrupted") has his intentions in the right place and demonstrates his insights into career-woman psyche, like the fact that women are more likely to appreciate genuine courtesy over superficial suaveness, or that so much of what passes for modernity in today's world in turn deprives it of grace and beauty. He also sees that working women are much more romantic than the world gives them credit for. This is embodied in Kate, who is professional with a vengeance, but who has just one fragile, lacy dress (tag still on it) sleeping in the back of her closet.

Having said all that, it's hard to go along with the rush of incredible events in the fated last 12 minutes when Kate realizes that where she really belongs is not in corporate New York but in the arms of Leopold. And as with most other Meg Ryan movies, we never know what happens after the two embrace and the screen fades to black. Do they really hit it off? What are they going to do for money? What about her job, her responsibilities? Would she really be happy?

These are questions that a loving grandmother would naturally ask if she found out her favorite granddaughter was planning to leave for the 19th century. Where are you Grandma? Come and get Meg out of these movies already!

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