Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Romantic Comedy Commentary Part II

Finally, yes, I bring to you the second half of my romantic-comedy movie marathon - with reviews of Kate & Leopold and Serendipity.

Kate & Leopold
I was a bit more excited about watching this, as opposed to Serendipity, for four reasons. 1) Hugh Jackman's in it. 2) Hugh Jackman boasts an English accent. 3) Hugh Jackman plays a noble aristocrat. 4) The plot is nicely science-fictional in nature. When I finished watching this movie, I realized I'd forgotten a few things, namely 1) Meg Ryan's in it, and 2) Ew! Incest subplot! Ew ew ew!

I couldn't believe how these two yummy Hugh Jackman movies were so hampered by ridiculously annoying heroines. Someone Like You's Ashley Judd was a damp, whimpering mess, but at least she seemed like a decent person when she was taking her meds. Kate & Leopold's Kate, played by Meg Ryan, is a washed-out, shrill, selfish shrew (say that three times fast!).

The movie begins in the late nineteenth century, as Leopold, Duke of Albany (Jackman! With an accent!), is distracted from watching the ceremony commemorating the under-construction Brooklyn Bridge by a bizarre man (Liev Schreiber) who takes pictures with his disturbingly modern camera and giggles whenever the construction workers mention that the bridge will be "the biggest erection in the world". Leopold gives chase, but loses the man. Leopold then returns to his uncle's mansion, where he and dear old Uncle have a spat about the nature of the aristocracy (Unkie needs Leopold to marry someone loaded because the Duchy is strapped for cash, Leopold hates being born to priviledge and would rather be remembered for his actual accomplishments).

Leopold is put into an even deeper funk when he catches that same strange man, in his own house, taking pictures of his sketchbooks (in which he's drawn his personal ideas and inventions). Again the man runs away, and Leopold again chases him - all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Leopold, ever the hero, tries to catch the man when the dude tries to jump off the bridge, but he's given an eyeful of mace in return, loses his grip, and falls into space.

Flash forward to the present. The man turns out to be a modern-day freaky-deaky scientist named Stuart, who discovered a rip in the space-time continuum, and promptly used it to follow his great-great-great grandfather around in the 19th century. What he wasn't expecting, however, was that his great-great-great grandfather would follow him back to the present. Leopold, upon recovering his senses, is understandably freaked out, and so is Stuart's ex-girlfriend, Kate (Meg Ryan with brittle hair and weird-looking lips).

Of course, Kate is freaked out for a different reason. She's not a huge fan of Stuart's theories, especially since their own four-year relationship did not terminate all that amicably. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that she loathes him, with a fierce, irrational, and shrill intensity - however, her contempt for the four years she wasted with a guy who was too geeky to pay the rent is not enough to incite her to go looking for an apartment that isn't directly above his. In fact, she uses this to her advantage, by bursting in at all hours of the day to squawk and rant about how much of a prick Stuart is, and it is during one such rampage that she meets Leopold.

Naturally, Leopold's (however tenuous) connection to Stuart immediately labels him as nutjob asshat in her eyes, but her assumptions are eventually dissuaded by the fact that Leopold is everything that she is not. For one, Leopold is honest to fault. Kate is in marketing, a job that is perfect for her gigantic ego, complete self-absorption, and her love of all details superficial and unimportant that make her okay with being a big fat liar. Leopold is perfectly polite - to the point where he will always rise when a lady leaves the table (even if anyone with taste and class would be hard-pressed to called Kate a lady). Kate is crass, loud and vindictive.

Leopold is, in fact, such a dashing, kind-hearted, tolerant, thoughtful man that it is nigh impossible to come to terms with the fact that he finds Kate attractive. Notwithstanding the fact that proper 19th century tastes would have thought a person styled as Kate is (short hair, sleeve-less dresses, pantsuits) to be either a girlish-looking man or a whore, Kate is so unapologetically rude to him for 70% of the movie I expected his delicate aristocratic ears to be steaming within an hour of their introduction. Somehow, though, he thinks she's adorably spunky and free-thinking, so unlike those vapid rich bitches he had to court back home. Whatever.

While the unrealistic relationship is one of the sharpest sticking points, the other is the theme of incest that hangs over the plot like a bad stink, even if it's never actually brought up. At the beginning of the movie Stuart introduces Leopold as his great-great-great grandfather, but he doesn't get to spend a lot of time with him, since Stuart spends much of the film in the hospital after falling down an elevator shaft (funny time-twist: since Leopold went on to invent the elevator, after he's yanked into the present, every elevator in the world vanishes/stops working). Since Kate has to babysit Leopold while Stuart recovers in the psychiatric ward of the hospital (he gabbed a bit too much about how he manipulated the space-time continuum), Leopold falls in love with her.

Love has limits, however, and inevitably Kate crosses them when she tries to impose her truth-is-relative-in-marketing-bullshit ideas on Leopold when he refuses to help her advertise a disgusting diet butter product. With Stuart's help, he returns to the past as a man heartbroken enough to give in to his uncle's demands to marry one of the rich girls at his party. Meanwhile, Stuart examines some of his photographs of the past a little more clearly, has an "OHSHIT!" moment, and rushes off to show Kate that she is in one of the photographs - somehow, she was meant to go back in time to be with Leopold. Learning her lesson (a little too conveniently), she jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge and through the time-rip, to arrive just in time to prevent Leopold from proposing to some vapid rich bitch.

Of course, Stuart never seems to realize the fact that if Kate was destined to go back in time to become Leopold's wife, than he just spent the last four years boinking his own great-great-great grandmother!

Essentially, Hugh Jackman was delightful as the Duke of Albany, a convincing romantic hero, but Meg Ryan's Kate had very little going for her so I found it hard to believe that a romance between them could spring up within the course of one week. C+

While this movie was much less offensive to me than Someone Like You and Kate & Leopold, it wasn't very heart-string-pulling. While this is partly because Hugh Jackman has nothing to do with this movie, and partly because its characters aren't as well-drawn as the couple in Fever Pitch, this movie, while not repulsive, still contained a whole lot of m'eh.

Jonathan (John Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) meet for the first time when they both grab the same pair of black cashmere gloves during a Christmas season shopping frenzy. A cute, pleasant, but relatively unexceptional date follows. Despite the fact that Jonathan has a girlfriend and Sarah has a boyfriend, Jonathan asks for her phone number. Sarah responds with a bunch of hippy-dippy fairy-tale nonsense about fate - how people can still choose, but that coincidence has a way of giving people signs about what choices they should make if they want to be happy. So when she gives Jonathan her number only to watch him lose it a heartbeat later in a gust of wind, she assumes Fate is annoyed and wants them to back off.

Jonathan, being rational, calls bullshit. Sarah decides to give him more of a chance, and asks him to write his number on a five-dollar bill while she writes her number on the inside of a first-edition copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. She then proceeds to pay for a packet of mints with the five-dollar bill, and promises to sell her book to a used-book store. Thus, she explains, if they're meant to be together, Jonathan will find the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, or that five-dollar bill will find its way back into her hands.

Again, Jonathan calls bullshit, so she relents, drags him into a hotel, and gives him one more chance. They'll each pick a separate elevator, and choose a floor at random. If they're meant to be, they'll choose the same floor. Fate, at this point, performs the first of a series of teases that occur throughout the film: Jonathan and Sarah actually pick the same floor (23), but a bratty kid hijacks Jonathan's elevator and pushes all the buttons, so that by the time he reaches 23, Sarah has left in a huff.

Seven years pass, and our would-be lovers haven't met up again, and are in fact engaged to other people. Sarah turns out to be a therapist and is engaged to a fruity shinai (flute) player named Johan (played by an amiable John Corbett). Jonathan, a producer for ESPN, is about to marry a decent girl in three days. Both heroes are relatively melancholy about their place in life - Sarah, in particular, has abandoned her Fate-obeying beliefs, having learned her lesson after seven years of never finding that five-dollar bill.

Jonathan, after spending an afternoon drenched in Fateful Sarah-references while trapped in a taxicab (advertisements with Sarah on them, an annoying biker singing "Sarah....Sarah...") suddenly discovers a sudden desire to restart his search for Sarah. The rest of the movie is a series of teases as Sarah and Jonathan, in their renewed hunt for each other, come within inches of finding each other, only to be miss each other at the last minute. Honestly, they share the screen for about ten minutes of the movie. That's it.

While the characters are fine, if a little nondescript, the theme of the movie is kind of cloudy. What, Fate didn't want them to get together when they were young and only mildly attached to other people, but when they're both about to embark upon permanent relationships with people who love them, Fate suddenly steps in and says, "Drop the dorks, it's time to shack up!" ? I mean, being a girlfriend who gets dumped for another girl seems a mite less painful than a fiancee whose betrothed cancels their wedding to hook up with another woman, don't you think?

Honestly, the film never discusses what those seven years apart did to make Jonathan and Sarah's impeding reunion more important. The film never even shows how the fiancee and Johan deal with the painful surprise that the people they believed to be their soulmates, the people who were days away from promising to be with them forever, are in fact perfectly willing to throw all their love away in order to chase down a person they spent three hours with on one night seven years ago. What was the point of all this? In some cases, Fate is even cruel - for instance, Jonathan's fiancee gives him a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera for a wedding present, not knowing that she is inadvertently handing him the Fateful copy with Sarah's phone number in it. Way to make a woman the unwitting instrument of her own heartbreak, eh?

Finally, the movie wasn't all that funny. Parts of it were cute, I guess, but really, the characters were all more or less blah. There was nothing particularly interesting about either of them to explain why a meet-cute that lasted less than three hours would be enough to occupy their obsessions for seven years. I personally found the loosey-goosey shinai player to be more interesting than John Cusack. Heck, I found Jeremy Piven to be more interesting than John Cusak. I could definitely watch a romantic comedy with Jeremy Piven at the head. For being inoffensive, mildly entertaining, but not exactly gripping, Serendipity gets a solid B-.

Well, well, well - it appears that for my first ever Romantic Comedy Marathon, the first prize ribbon goes to the American version of Fever Pitch, which was a delightful, funny, relatively realistic comedy with a very delicious Jimmy Fallon in it. Yes, I said American version. As one of my helpful commentators pointed out - there was actually a British version that came out first, in 1997, which starred Colin Firth as a man in love with a football (soccer to you Yanks) team, as well as his girlfriend. If I can find it, I might want to try to watch that, too.

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