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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.

Published December 18, 2003

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CAST: Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed

SCRIPT: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: Rental) December 10, 2003; (Retail) March 24, 2004

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