Kate & Leopold
Credit: Kate & Leopold: John Baer

You’ll undoubtedly want to know about her hairdo: To play contemporary businesswoman Kate McKay in the teeny-weeny, holiday-preeny romantic comedy Kate & Leopold, Meg Ryan had her yellow locks ironed straight, all the tousle of Proof of Life undone. You’ll probably also want to know about his sideburns: As Leopold, a 19th-century duke who falls for Kate when he crashes through a ripped wrinkle in the time-space continuum and ends up in her New York City apartment, Hugh Jackman has traded the fierce Wolverine cheek whiskers of X-Men for a gentlemanly smooth shave and a coif more usually seen on that other, more foppish Hugh, Grant.

These details matter because, as with even the cutest, lightest movie meant for couples on a night out and single women on a Blockbuster night in, this one contains a Rosetta stone’s worth of information as much about the mythologies of those who made it as about those for whom it’s intended. And thus we learn, according to director and cowriter James Mangold (who previously fantasized about law enforcement in Cop Land and mental illness in Girl, Interrupted), that 21st-century single businesswomen must still be sexually punished for their ambition, as surely as if The Feminine Mystique had never been written or Hepburn had never met Tracy. Kate’s trials include a self-involved ex-boyfriend (Liev Schreiber), a self-involved actor brother (Breckin Meyer), and a self-involved boss (The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford) who hits on her.

But oh, Kate’s rewards from her new Back to the Future beau are worth the time travel and hair ironing! While Ryan pulls at her overlong sleeves in the universal gesture of feminine infantilization, Jackman has a dandy time demonstrating how much fun it is to be handsome, Australian, and capable of doing his own stunt horseback riding. It’s no myth: All play and no work makes Jackman, as Leopold, a doll of a boyfriend. B-

Kate & Leopold
  • Movie
  • 118 minutes