Who doesn’t miss the days when Meg Ryan ably served as “America’s Sweetheart?”
Yes, Ryan’s early film career featured zany comedies (“Armed & Dangerous”) as well as dramas showcasing her rarely tapped range (“When a Man Loves a Woman”). But audiences know her best as the crinkly-eyed cutie from “You Got Mail,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and, of course, “When Harry Met Sally.”
Her kiss-off to romantic comedies came with the 2001 film “Kate & Leopold,” out this week in a director’s cut version on Blu-ray with an array of extra items.
It’s hardly her best rom-com. How could she possible top the sublime “Sally?” And co-star Hugh Jackman radiates so much charisma as a man out of time that Ryan sometimes can’t keep up. But her buoyant persona salvages the film’s nagging flaws, while her ability to represent our collective hopes and fears regarding the dating realm remain unrivaled.
There’s a reason Katherine Heigl, Anna Faris and Hilary Swank have all tried, and failed, to step into her sensible but saucy shoes.
In “Kate & Leopold,” Ryan plays a hard-driving market research executive who meets a strange man named Leopold (Jackman) under some odd circumstances. He’s a man from another time, literally. He’s the Duke of Albany, even if he bristles at the title, and he’s brought into the present by Kate’s ex-beau (Liev Schreiber) courtesy of some shady time travel gimmickry.
When Kate first meets Leopold she thinks his old-fashioned shtick is just that, a facade crafted by a hammy actor looking to practice his skills. He’s perfect for a buttery spread commercial she’s whipping up, but that’s about all she thinks he can do for her.
Writer/director James Mangold’s script forces them to spend a little more time with each other, and soon the time gap doesn’t seem so insurmountable.
Ryan’s Kate is far too brittle at first, and you simply wonder what Leopold sees in her.
“You’re like a man,” her boss (Bradley Whitford) tells her as an odd compliment. Even her hairstyle is severe and unwelcoming. But Ryan’s essential warmth starts to emerge the more she spends time with Jackman’s regal character, and their subsequent attraction hits all the right romance novel buttons.
The Blu-ray edition features a commentary track by Mangold, deleted scenes, a costume featurette and an “on the set” segment created at the time of the film’s first release.
“The circumstances of the film are ridiculous, but at the same time … charming,” Mangold says “on the set.” The writer/director adds that he wanted to show the beauty of modern living rather than simply pay homage to the sumptuous trappings of the past.
So true. But “Kate & Leopold” wouldn’t work without an excellent sales job by both Jackman and Ryan.