So, when I watched Kate & Leopold last week, it occurred to me one reason I didn’t like it as much as I remembered is that Leopold’s too perfect.
The point of a love story, of course, is that boy meets girl (or boy meets boy, or girl meets girl, of course), boy and girl clearly belong together but there are obstacles. Sometimes they’re external—the whole “we live five centuries apart!” problem for many of the movies I’m watching lately, for instance. Other times it’s the lovers’ personality:
•One or both of them is a cynic or a womanizer or a rationalist who doesn’t believe in love.
•They believe in love but dang, not with that obnoxious, irritating person! No way would they ever lock lips with him/her!
•Their flawed in ways that make it tragically difficult for them to love, or hysterically difficult for them to be together.
All of these are doable premises, but the last listed often comes off as sexist in execution. I’ve read a number of bad romance novels in which the hero is not only staggeringly arrogant, he’s staggeringly right about everything. Admittedly this has a long history (it’s what I disliked about Jane Austen’s Emma) but it usually annoys the hell out of me, with the implication that the woman has to be “fixed” and the all-wise man’s doing the fixing. It’s both sexist and awkwardly imbalanced
For example, in a 1980s TV movie, The World’s Oldest Living Bridesmaid, Donna Mills is a high powered executive but because she’s all about the career, she suddenly wakes up and realizes she forgot to get married OMG what if nobody ever asks her again! Fortunately her younger-and-poorer-but-wiser new assistant (Brian Wimmer) easily melts her defenses and makes her realize what she’s missing. A lot of time the thing that needs to be fixed is that the woman loves her job and doesn’t spend enough time husband-hunting (shades of Susan Patton).
Which is part of what bothered me about K&L, more than when I first saw it. Leopold is a dream: he’s intelligent, suave, knows exactly how to romance a woman (though worrying about the hidden meaning of flowers should have been funnier than it was). He’s never been in love but he’s not willing to marry for money. And as I mentioned in my review, they duck any of the sexism, classism and other problems he might have (in fairness, so do most time-travel romance movies).
Kate, on the other hand, is cynical, has (by her own admission) a bad track record with men, and comes off rather shrill and hostile toward her ex (Liev Schreibman). In contrast to Leopold’s integrity, she’s working in marketing and therefore compromised ethically as she’s selling stuff she doesn’t even believe in (yes, a fairly silly position for Hollywood to take). She seems open to the idea of an affair with her boss (I can never figure out if she’s just putting up with him for a promotion), and she ultimately chooses career over romance (before the usual last-minute turnaround). She clearly needs fixing.
Possibly the idea was that Leopold represents that classic romantic fantasy of the prince who’ll sweep the ordinary woman away and turn her into a princess. Meg Ryan, by contrast, is the ordinary woman who’s going to be swept. But if so, I don’t think that was the optimum approach.