For anyone who's ever enjoyed the corny fluff of Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies -- or even gotten a good laugh out of their outdated sexual mores -- Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor will earn ear-to-ear grins for their deliciously tongue-in-cheek performances in "Down With Love."
An affectionate spoof of the pastel giddiness of late '50s/early '60s battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedies like "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back," the movie is directed by Peyton Reed, who proved his talent for good-natured ribbing in 2000's surprisingly droll and self-mocking cheerleader flick "Bring It On."
Super-saturated with soundstagey Technicolor style, the picture stars the wide-eyed and witty Zellweger as Barbara Novak, an adorably effervescent, fashionably feminist author freshly arrived in Manhattan. A farmer's-daughter-cum-sophisticate, she has written an empowerment manifesto for the fairer sex called "Down With Love," the gist of which is that romance is a distraction and women should "enjoy sex the way a man does -- a la carte!" A controversial concept in 1962.
When the book becomes a worldwide sensation -- "You're bigger than the pill!" exclaims her unlucky-in-love editor/best friend Vicki (Sarah Paulson) -- and women are emboldened to challenge the sexual status quo, Barbara finds herself in the crosshairs of infamous playboy-journalist Catcher Block (McGregor), who aims to debunk her by making her fall head over heels in love.
A cuff-link twirling, charm-oozing "ladies' man, man's man, man about town," Catcher has already irked Barbara once by standing her up for a men's magazine interview in which she was to tout the feminine libido. But since they've never met face-to-face, when he poses as Zip Martin, an aw-shucks astronaut who is too much of a shy Southern gentleman to sleep with her, Barbara's none the wiser and the ruse begins to work -- if only because she "can't even get picked up by a taxi driver" now that she's become an icon of girlish feminism.
Reed packs "Love" with ribald innuendo (during a genre-mocking split-screen phone call Zellweger and McGregor appear to be assuming a series of kinky sexual positions) and zealously embellishes every aspect of '60s cinematic ambiance. Every stick of funky furniture (Catcher's couch turns into a bed with the flip of a switch), every process-shot backdrop of period-streets stock footage, every colorful costume (Zellweger and Paulson change dozens of times and McGregor wears sock suspenders) is spot-on. The dialogue, the sound design, the cinematography, and the score all ape the era with flawless over-the-top precision.
But it's the pitch-perfect, whimsically ironic acting that gives the film its confectionary exuberance. There's a remarkable twinkle in Zellweger's busily popping eyes, but it doesn't substitute for finding her character's soul, which in turn doesn't interfere with the actress giving her funniest performance to date. Her matter-of-fact delivery of an intentionally and absurdly long-winded scolding of Catcher Block -- in which she reveals a madcap major plot-twist -- has to have been hard to do with a straight face. But there's never the slightest crack in her character's tenacious resolve.
With his wiry frame and a little grease in his hair, McGregor absolutely looks the part of a Kennedy-era screen idol, yet he brings just the right amount of lampoonery to his sexy swingin' bachelor whose chauvinistic plot backfires when he -- gasp! -- begins to fall for Barbara.
In a case of inspired casting, "Frasier's" David Hyde Pierce rounds out the company of players as Catcher's neurotic, nebulously fay, romantically inept boss (and art-of-seduction protege), who is, of course, desperately in love with Vicki. (Tony Randall, who traditionally had that role in the Day-Hudson flicks, has a cameo here as the sexist president of Barbara's publishing house.)
Unfortunately, "Down With Love" stumbles significantly in an elongated epilogue that falls back on the same clichés the movie is meant to mock. It would have been much funnier and more satisfying if Reed and screenwriters Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake had stuck to their modern-girl guns. But more I cannot say without giving away too much story.
Suffice it to say this was going to be a four-star review until the last 10 minutes knocked it down to three.
Run time: 101 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th May 2003
Box Office Worldwide: $20.3M
Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Jinks/Cohen Company, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Mediastream Dritte Film
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Renée Zellweger as Barbara Novak, Ewan McGregor as Catcher Block, Sarah Paulson as Vikki Hiller, David Hyde Pierce as Peter MacMannus, Rachel Dratch as Gladys, Jack Plotnick as Maurice, Tony Randall as Theodore Banner, John Aylward as E.G., Warren Munson as C.B., Matt Ross as J.B., Michael Ensign as J.R., Timothy Omundson as R.J., Ivana Miličević as Yvette, Melissa George as Elkie, Dorie Barton as Sally, Laura Kightlinger as Receptionist, Chris Parnell as TV Emcee, Robert Katims as Dry Cleaner, Florence Stanley as Dry Cleaner's Wife, John Storey as Maitre D' (as John Christopher Storey), Peter Spruyt as Waiter, Lynn Collins as Beatnik Girl, David Doty as Doorman, Jude Ciccolella as Private Eye, Will Jordan as Ed Sullivan, Brad Hanson as Johnny Trementus, Beth LaMure as CBS Switchboard Operator #1, Christie Cronenweth as CBS Switchboard Operator #2, Megan Denton as Astronette #1, Melanie Lewis as Astronette #2, Sybil Azur as Astronette #3, Joanna Collins as Astronette #4, Sandra McCoy as Astronette #5 (as Sandra C. McCoy), Sarah Christine Smith as Astronette #6, Norman Fessler as Photographer, Marc Shaiman as Pianist, Scott Wittman as Bartender, Pat Cusick as Waiter (as Patrick Cusick), Rick Scarry as Narrator (voice), Basil Hoffman as C. W. (uncredited), Turtle as Beatnik (uncredited), Jeri Ryan as Gwendolyn
Also starring: Renee Zellweger
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