Down With Love Movie Review

Please don't be fooled. Not by the cloying title, the impossibly adorable leads or even the pre-release hype which has been calling Down With Love the resurrection of the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedy and a couple-friendly alternative to the twin roar of X2 and The Matrix Reloaded. Don't be fooled because Down With Love is less a romantic comedy than a careful study of them. It's very funny, even sweet at times, but not a drag-my-boyfriend-to-it kinda movie, unless figuring it out afterward in the parking lot puts you in the mood.

Down With Love sets itself gently down in Manhattan, circa 1962, a decision that seems to be made less by the screenplay than the art department. Everybody's got those fabulous right-angled styles Doris and Rock wore so well in, say, Lover Come Back. The apartments and office towers are gorgeous modernist swank. Even the credit sequence (do not arrive late) does that wonderful, hollow chromatic drawing thing that worked so beautifully in Catch Me If You Can. It reminds me of the late, great title designer Saul Bass, after a few afternoon martinis.

Into all this vintage steps Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger), a writer from Maine in town for the debut of her book Down With Love, which argues that women no longer need relationships and marriage to feel successful and can replace love from a man first with chocolate and then, if they like, casual sex. The stiff shirts at her publishing house have never heard such nonsense and refuse to spend a cent promoting the book. Undaunted, Barbara's loyal editor Vicki (Sarah Paulson) sets up an interview at Know, the sauciest men's magazine in town, with its star reporter and shameless lothario Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor). While Catcher throws away their meeting for a succession of quickies, the book takes off and women all over New York begin throwing back. Down With Love is messing with Catcher's rap and since he and Barbara haven't met yet, he follows her to the dry cleaner, calls himself a cowpoke astronaut named Zip Martin and tries to win her heart thereby uprooting the movement at the source. Meanwhile, Catcher's hapless editor-in-chief Peter and Vicki are weighing whether they should fall in love solely based on their understanding of the book and how much they like the roles it creates for both of them.

It's every bit as contrived as the meeting of Day and Hudson in Pillow Talk, their seminal romp where they play two upwardly mobiles whose telephones are on the same party line. But Down With Love also borrows the best parts of these old lovebird jerk-arounds which makes it the kind of date fare I can get behind, as opposed to its ridiculously self-serious brethren like Kissing Jessica Stein and Sweet November, which I cannot.

The thing I always liked about the Day/Hudson films is that stars always seemed a little bit aware of the nonsense that enveloped them. They knew the audience was there to see them march lockstep through getting together, fighting, reconciling, and then falling in love all over again. Their job, well-paid yet basically functional, was to attack the dialogue with sass and gusto, to rush the plot toward inevitability without burdening it with sincerity. Ironically, without dwelling on the "acting" of it all, they were able to take a formula and make it their own.

Watching these movies again, you'll also realize both how refreshingly free of whining they are and how they see the dance of love as funny rather than with the dreary seriousness of Finding The One. Sure Doris Day wanted to get married someday but I never saw her view a lack of romance as a gaping hole in an otherwise dreamy existence. Day and Hudson also never frolicked in the annoying Hollywood universe next door where Julia Roberts can't get a date. Rock and Dor were only meant to date each other.

Zellweger and McGregor both know where their characters come from and play along admirably. Barbara and Catcher are empty vessels that the actors fill with charm left over from previous roles (Zellweger two-parts Nurse Betty, one Dorothy Boyd from Jerry Maguire; McGregor a whole lotta Moulin Rouge) and jog at a nice clip to keep up with the script's numerous twists. David Hyde Pierce and Paulson hold down the time-honored role of the Supporting Couple, usually allowed more personality than their safer-blander counterparts. And the script lets nothing gather dust: Everything from characters' names to the continuous gender flip-flopping to a hilarious bit of sexual innuendo involving a split screen telephone conversation reminds us that a firm thrust of silliness makes this kind of movie go.

So bring a date to Down With Love if you must, but if you're goal is snuggling afterward, you'll probably be disappointed. Like all the strongest examples of romantic comedy, it knows that the accent lands on the second word.

Down wit homey.

Comments

Down With Love Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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