DOWN WITH LOVE
When Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger) hits New York in 1962 with her ‘pink’ feminist book Down With Love, women all over New York, indeed the world, fall in love with her proposition that love is a distraction; women should swear off love and do what they want, earn equal pay and have sex like men. Anytime, anywhere, with anyone. Playboy journalist Catch Block (Ewan McGregor) agrees to write about her for his neurotic publishing boss Peter McMannus (David Hyde Pierce), who wants to get close enough to woo Barbara’s splendid editor, Vikki (Sarah Paulson). Catch’s intention is to ridicule Barbara as a typical spinster who actually wants nothing but marriage herself. But Catch doesn’t factor in Barbara Novak’s unpredictable and sassy war plan.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Here’s a gay, nay, high camp, romantic comedy that’s so old fashioned it’s positively fresh. Especially for anyone who’s too young to recall 1962 in New York. About May and June. With its stillettos firmly in the sun-softened asphalt of box hats, swinging jazz and the stirrings of women’s lib, Down With Love toys with serious issues but flings them about with gay abandon. Ooops, there’s that word again. My, how infectious it is. But you see, the heroine doesn’t bed the hero – just talks about wanting to a lot, like in the old movies. The script is a throwback to the classic Hollywood comedies when people actually listened to clever dialogue between fractious stars like Rock Hudson and Doris Day, because the repartee was a weapon in the wars of the sexes. Always good copy and a great source of comedy. Overlayed with contemporary sensibilities about sex, Down With Love juggles the plot so that we are forever kept in suspension as the destined lovers dance around in a mock fight to the death. And there’s so much business in the film, you’ll go ga-ga trying to keep up, from the Judy Garland throw-away to the larger than life fashion plates. But ultimately it runs on the enormous energy levels generated by its two leads, as well as the memorable David Hyde Pierce, and from talent-rich Marc Shaiman’s unashamedly camp score, a loving tribute to the songs and tunes of his no doubt misspent youth. On second thoughts, it only seems camp in the context of the film, whereas in fact they are just damn good show tunes (augmented by jazz evergreens). Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor stomp through the film, and while Zellweger is her usual irrepressible, irresistible self, it takes time to accept Scottish lad Ewan McGregor as the ultra smooth playboy who eventually falls on his sword to become a gooey mess. (But then he had practiced romantic in Moulin Rouge…) Lights, camera, action and wardrobe are on 24 hour stand by in this production, and they are just as important as the plot or the performances. In fact, it’s McGregor’s wardrobe that saves him in many scenes. It’s all about style and how to tell an escapist story which deep down has some meat. I enjoyed it for its exuberance and wit, and you’ll either love it or hate it. Cynics will hate it, gays will love it and the rest of you can decide on the day.
Review by Louise Keller:
Down With Love is sheer delight. “I’ll be your Rock if you’re my Doris” sings Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger in the closing credits duet, while composer Marc Shaiman hams it up on the piano. Here at last is a film for all those who shake their heads and mutter: ‘They don’t make films like they used to…’ If they are referring to those delightful Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedies of the 60s, that is. Films like Pillow Talk in which the characters were shaken in a scrumptious cocktail of slick lines, glitzy settings and double entendres. Down With Love is both a tribute to and a send up of those very films. We are swept into the mood by the lollypop credits – a kaleidoscope of colour filled with flowers, champagne, stars, rockets and doves that come together to form a heart. The vertical split screen concept when Barbara and Catcher are on the phone to each other is expanded with a horizontal split screen (Barbara is lying down; Catcher is doing push ups) and a diagonal one to boot (you can fantasise your own conclusions about that one!) We have no doubts about when the film is set – this is the era of false eyelashes, baby doll dresses, garters, rayon and hair that flicks out and stays there. Then there’s the music – the title tune sung by Judy Garland and there’s even ol’ blue eyes himself crooning smoothly. And of course Shaiman’s catchy, toe-tapping vehicles for the musical talents of McGregor and Zellweger. The script is smart, slick and sophisticated and plays out with a light touch, having fun with ideas that are borrowed and new ones hot from the oven. The story is a battle of the sexes – and all’s fair in love and war. The plot is predictable and we think we know where it’s going – until we realise that there is a delectable twist that is almost too complicated to untangle. Unless you go with the flow and have a lot of fun, which is exactly what the filmmakers intended. The comedy comes in every shape and from every direction: slapstick, one liners, play on words, visual and musical gags. I like the play on words. Take the name Catcher, for example – Catch for short. There’s plenty you can do with that. Then there’s Know Magazine and Now Magazine – try creating a tongue twister around that one – no, right now. Zellweger is divine as Barbara and looks a treat wearing a stunning multi-coloured wardrobe including dresses, feathers, hats, capes and coats that even blend in with the decor. McGregor may not be Rock Hudson but he imbues Catcher with his own brand of charm and he and Zellweger are fun together. Todd Haynes revived the 50s with Far From Heaven, and now Peyton Reed has taken us back to the 60s. What is the next treat in store?
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DOWN WITH LOVE (M)
CAST: Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall
PRODUCER: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed
SCRIPT: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Keff Crpmemwetj ASC
EDITOR: Larry Bock
MUSIC: Marc Shaiman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrew Laws
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 14, 2003
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: December 10, 2003