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It's 1962 New York. Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) has written a book
called "Down With Love" convincing woman that they don't need a man or
love or sex to succeed and be happy with themselves. Womanizer Catcher
Block (Ewan McGregor) is determined to prove her wrong.
This is many things--an affectionate remake of those silly Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies; a sweet sendup of them at the same time; a perfect example of 1960s sex comedies with a 2000s twist; a huge barrel of laughs for film buffs with its perfect remake of a 1960s film and an examination of sexual mores and stereotypes of the 1960s.
The movie look like a Day/Hudson movie right down to the fashions Zellweger wears, the VERY colorful sets, the obviously painted backdrops from penthouse apartments and the crappy back projection in cars. There's also a hysterical (and very dirty) use of split screen during a phone conversation between Zellweger and McGregor. The movie even opens with the old Cinemascope logo used in films of that era!
The cast is right on target--Zellweger and McGregor give their all to the performances--they wink at the audience all the time...but not TOO much. David Hyde Pierce (doing Tony Randall) and Sarah Paulson are also very funny with the dreaded best friends role. The only real problem is the script. It is sharp and funny but occasionally bogs down and some of the twists are too obvious.
Still, I enjoyed it. The casual moviegoer will probably hate this--unless you get the inside jokes all throughout the film you'll think you're watching a badly dated sex comedy. But it's not--it's a parody and an affectionate sendup. This will be most appreciated by film buffs or students.
I'm surprised to read so many user comments which indicate that Down
With Love received some critical acclaim - I recall a very different
response, where critics seemed hugely and almost unanimously
underwhelmed (maybe this was a UK response?) and consequently, I wasn't
expecting too much. This only enhanced my enjoyment - what an
underrated gem this movie is!!
I rarely like Zellwegger, but here she was pertly perfect, and McGregor was simply fabulous - dashing, charismatic, loathsome, even vulnerable, especially when he occasionally slips from his duplicitous fake self (when he notices a lash on her cheek, for example), and always delivers his lines with exquisite (and surprising) comic timing. The support cast were also excellent, especially Hyde Pierce, although he was not a 100 miles from his decade-long stint as Niles Crane.
The set, costumes, production design and cinematography were also outstanding in this movie, evoking the brashly-coloured, kitsch, fluffy-light ambiance which pervades the early 1960s New York screwball romance movie genre, but the snippy script and slick direction removed this pastiche away from its potential as mere enchanting, screwball fable to a witty, post-feminist send-up of this Hudson/Day romcom genre - and indeed, the battle of the sexes. To its credit, Down With Love doesn't collapse completely into mawkish sentimentality with Novak (Zellwegger) suddenly capitulating into the cult of domesticity, tamed by her man, which is often the fate of modern post-feminist heroines - instead, the couple compromise, and we can be sure that she won't be confined to the suburban purgatory she comes to dread.
In all, a fun, fab and brilliantly executed movie, which has been clearly (re)created with due love for the genre it so skillfully parodies, yet in the light of postmodern sensibilities by adding a much-needed post-feminist twist.
If only because Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger were in this movie, it
would be worth seeing. What you can't expect, however, is the sheer fun
that ensues, complete with fake New York City backdrops, glamorous period
sets, and even more glamorous costumes, makeup and hairstyles. After the
first few minutes, I began to tire of this homage mentality, but the
quickly sucked me in, thanks in great part to the blissfully neurotic
performance of David Hyde Pierce as the friend/boss of Catcher Block
(McGregor). Sarah Paulson is also fun and perky as Barbara Novak's
(Zellweger) best friend/editor, and keeps things moving along quite well.
His Theatrical Eminence, Tony Randall, even makes an appearance as "The
Boss" of the publishing company. He, coincidentally enough, was the
friend/boss to Rock Hudson in "Pillow Talk" from 1959.
The chemistry between McGregor and Zellweger heated up the screen in a sweet, old-fashioned way. Remember the kind of romance that reminds you of when just smooching and holding hands was just ever so dreamy? That level is cranked up a few notches higher (in that same sweet fashion) than Doris Day or Rock Hudson would have ever dared; a particular example is the priceless "split-screen" telephone conversation between the leads, taken to a level above, below, and to the side-like of any ever seen on screen before.
Also of great note is Zellweger's scene that includes the longest bit of unedited exposition I've had the opportunity to see on film (one-shot, no cuts at all). It reminds me greatly of Steve Martin's coffee-pouring bit ("Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid") except that it's all dialogue! I was torn between listening to all of the story twists, and wanting to pull out a stopwatch to clock her monologue! The next shot of Catch must have mirrored the expression of the entire audience at that particular moment!
Anyone planning to see this film might find it amusing to first watch movies like "Pillow Talk" to get a feel for the kind of film that is being emulated here. In fact, there are a number of particular story elements that obviously could be attributed to that particular film.
It should be no surprise to learn that the team who wrote this fun sex farce is also responsible for the upcoming "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" set to be released July 2, 2003.
Have fun, and enjoy this tasty treat of nostalgia. Chocolate, as you will see, becomes a key player. Make sure to stick around for the final credits as well.....if you loved McGregor in "Moulin Rouge" and Zellweger in "Chicago", you will adore the vocal stylings of both at the end of this oh-so-cute movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To make a movie which pays homage to a specific style of film making
and effectively pull it off is a thing not many movies nowadays can say
they do. Words like "noir" or "romantic comedy" or "sex farce" or
"genre film" are thrown around cheaply, and the end result is just
shades away from tragic.
DOWN WITH LOVE is a film that successfully pays a sincere homage to the movies that Doris Day and Rock Hudson made back in the very early 60s, and is filmed to look as if it had been released in its time frame, down to its (opening and closing) credits, fake backdrops, stunning wardrobe, innocent innuendo, and overall 60s values. There could have been a plethora of references and anachronisms that could have ruined the look of the film, but thankfully, this is not the case, and for a plot that transpires in 1962, it feels absolutely and undeniably 1962.
Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, and David Hyde Pierce all take over roles made famous by their predecessors (Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, and Tony Randall), and without imitating them, they make these their own and make DOWN WITH LOVE a breezy, enjoyable viewing that doesn't ask for too much analysis.
I loved the Doris Day/Rock Hudson pastiches and some of the comedies that followed with the extraordinary Doris and a varied but terrific succession of leading men. In particular with James Garner in "The Thrill Of It All" The secret there, I believe, was a smart and knowing script an unmistakable chemistry between the stars and performances that were solidly based on reality no matter how "out there" they seem to be. Here, the whole thing is so self conscious that we are never allow to go beyond it and actually enjoy the whole thing. Rene Zellwegger is a very good actress but not a natural comedienne. She's at her best when she's thoroughly thorough as in "Nurse Beatty" where she was very funny mostly because her conviction was so convincingly strong. Here she plays it like in a SNL sketch and could have worked if it had had the length of one of those sketches. In "Down With Love" she's downright annoying. Ewan McGregor, one of my favorites, is not even there. Let me explain. Think of Rock Hudson's commitment to those roles. The charm he was able to emanate and how naturally he became the foil for Doris Day. Here Zellwegger and McGregor don't play opposite each other but against each other. No chemistry whatsoever. Ewan McGregor so wonderful, powerful and beautiful in "Velvet Goldmine" "Shallow Grave" not to mention "Moulin Rouge", is kind of insignificant here. Yes, I'm amazed myself. Doesn't have a hint of the romantic manliness of Rock Hudson, isn't that funny? I didn't like either the on the nose production design, the silly costumes, the theatrical make up and hair nor the unimaginative lighting. Other than that, David Hyde Pierce is, almost, worth the price of admission.
This is an homage to the light romantic comedies of the early 60's and a strong influence by "Pillow Talk". Renee Zellweger is Barbara Novack and she writes a book about women and how they look at relationships and an editor at a publishing firm named Vicki Hiller (Sarah Paulson) convinces the board of directors to publish her book. One way to get attention to her book is for a well known writer to write an expose of it so they try to get Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) to do the job but he's so busy womanizing that he keeps canceling their appointments so they try other methods to get attention to her book and they succeed as it becomes a best seller. Catcher is amazed by her success and bets his friend and coworker Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce) that he can make her fall in love with him which would make her a hypocrite and he would have a big story to publish. Catcher pretends to be a shy astronaut from Florida and they start to date. This film is directed by Peyton Reed who has worked almost exclusively in television and is directing the "Fantastic Four" next. Film does an admirable job of recreating those type of films that were prevalent in those times. The sets are terrific with the decor for the offices and apartments. Even the scenes like when Zellweger is riding in a car its obvious that its a sound stage with a movie screen behind them showing stock footage of 1960's traffic. The script also does a good job of adding some flavor of 1960's culture like when one of the board of directors describes her as "The Farmers Daughter" from Maine. This is of course in reference to Debbie Reynolds and when MacGregor says he's an astronaut from Cocoa Beach Florida its from "I Dream Of Jeannie". All pop icons from the sixties. And having Tony Randall in the film gives it the ultimate cavalier compliment. Its not a perfect homage like the scene where Paulson accuses Pierce of being homosexual which would not have been allowed during those times but the lighthearted charm of the film remains intact. Zellweger is fine as usual as Barbara but its MacGregor that caught my eye. His performances in the last two years have never ceased to be interesting. He was almost unrecognizable in "Black Hawk Down" and then shows he can sing in "Moulin Rouge!" But also shows he can handle playing American dialects. He's an amazing actor to watch and here he adds to his mystique. Film is utterly charming and it does compliment the films from the early sixties.
DWL didn't do to well at the box office. I guess it must have been due to a
poor advertizing campaign. After finally seeing it, I though it was pretty
good. It's sort of like a battle of the sexes. Barbara Novak pretends to
be a man hating woman who doesn't need love while Catcher Block is a
womanizer out to prove he can get the DWL girl(Novak) to fall in love. So
along the way, we get funny situations, like Catch pretending to be Zip and
many over heard conversations that seem to be about something else, ie...
the secretary overhearing the sock discussion. And an unusually scene using
split screens with Barbara and Catch talking on the phone. She's below and
he's on top doing pushups. At the end they smoke. Cute
The 2 supporting characters, Vikki and Peter, were good. Plus we get a surprise twist toward the end involving Barbara, which I never saw coming.
FINAL VERDICT: Cute and funny. It's different than your average romantic comedy. So if you like romantic comedies, I recommend this one.
Barbara (Renee Zellweger) has just written a book called Down With Love. She leaves Maine and lands in New York City, where her book is about to hit the shelves. Unfortunately, the male executives at her publishing house have doubts about the new tome and are not forking over any marketing money. The lone woman at Banner publishing, Vicki, takes Barbara under her wing and they work to get the nonfiction title some fame. First, they decide to ask Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), a prominent male writer for Know magazine, to do a cover story for the book. He postpones the interview again and again. In the meantime, Vicki and Barbara get the book mentioned on the Ed Sullivan show. Soon, copies of DWL are flying out of the bookstores, mainly because the book empowers women to think more about themselves and less about attracting a man. Catcher spies a picture of Barbara in a bookstore window and knows he has to meet her. However, since he is a notorious ladies man, he assumes the identity of an astronaut named Zip Martin. Naturally, he plays the perfect gentleman when he begins to take Barbara out on the town. How long will it be until Barbara discovers the truth? And, will she have fallen for the guy first? Romantic comedy fans everywhere should love this film. It is a takeoff of the old Doris and Rock movies that are so delightfully fun and full of clean mischief. Zellweger and McGregor are a joy in their roles as the smitten couple. The rest of the cast, including a cameo by Tony Randall, are great, too. The look of the film is nice, as are the costumes and the Big Apple setting. If you love crazy, contrived, comic love tales, get this one tonight. You will bask in its take-me-out-of-my-blues delivery.
I just love Ewan and Renee (not to mention David & Sarah!) in Down With Love. Ewan and Renee have proved themselves over and over again to be fantastic performers, and in my book, this one is tops! I am so glad that they made this film, for those of us who miss this type of lighthearted, uplifting, classy work of days gone by -- not to mention being able to see Ewan and Renee in some real quality signing and dancing! WOW! True chemistry. Their timing is impeccable. And I've got to say, Ewan, a very handsome man in his own right, never looked sexier. Absolutely gorgeous. They were meant for this... They all were! It was all wonderful. The glamorous outfits, the bright sceneries, the spaciousness, the clever props, the catchy music, the perfectly timed split screen segment done as sleek and artistically as a dance... the whole cast -- Including Tony Randall to bring it all back!!! -- Nothing could have been improved upon. This piece has kick, bounce, nostalgia, wit and smooth elegance. David Hyde Pierce, playing Tony Randall's classic character role, is right on the mark. I couldn't imagine a closer match... and his sidekick, Sarah Paulson, is pure gold. This movie was made for them, and anyone who hasn't watched it, or who did but just doesn't get it, is missing something genuinely worthwhile. To not "get it" is your unfortunate loss. When "It's A Wonderful Life" first came out, it was considered one of the worst movies around, having done pitifully in the box office. People were simply confused and thought it to be unrealistic silly fluff. It wasn't until many years later, when it was shown by accident on TV, that it started being cherished for the rare gem that it truly is. And that simply goes to show that it is all about allowing yourself to relish and appreciate a work of art when it is presented to you. Move with it, sway with it, laugh, dance and sing with it -- Savor the clever twists and turns. When this is done, you will grasp Down With Love, and it will be valued for the fine quality labor of love that it always was -- just waiting for you to see.
DOWN WITH LOVE, director Peyton Reed's homage/spoof of the Doris Day/Rock
Hudson sex comedies of the early 60s, is a delightful bit of fluff in a
movie season filled with inferior sequels and overwrought epics. Dazzling to
watch, with Givenchy-inspired costumes (if Daniel Orlandi does not receive
an Oscar for his work, his peers should turn in their Designer cards),
wonderfully over-the-top sets (EVERYBODY in those 60s films lived in
apartments you could land airplanes in), and a 'More 1963 New York than 1963
New York' look (created on the studio back lot, with ample support from
CGI), the film would deserve a viewing even if the cast never uttered a line
Fortunately, the script, by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, is wickedly funny, full of the politically incorrect double entendres that were as close as Hollywood could get to actual 'naughtiness', 30 years ago (and, yes, there are more than a few present that WOULD have been censored, even then). The story, of a woman who writes a best-selling 'self-help' book eschewing the necessity of men for any more than 'casual sex', and the 'Hugh Hefner'-like writer who turns his prodigious charms to work, in the guise of a naive astronaut, to win her love, and thus discredit her theories, would have fit Doris Day and Rock Hudson to a 'T'. While Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor lack their role models' charisma, they have a pleasant chemistry together, and the 'split-screen' phone call scenes between the pair are even racier than the Day/Hudson 60s versions.
If the leads seem a bit bland, the supporting cast more than makes up for any shortcomings. In a role that SHOULD garner a 'Supporting Actor' Oscar nomination, David Hyde Pierce takes on the part assumed by Tony Randall or Gig Young in those 60s farces, that of the put-upon, neurotic, sometimes prissy friend of the hero. He is superb, even SOUNDING like Tony Randall, and steals every scene he's in. His 'opposite number', friend of the heroine Sarah Paulson, while not quite at Pierce's level, is still quite funny as a chain-smoking career woman who would chuck it all for the right man. And, in a FABULOUS piece of casting, the MAN himself, Tony Randall, appears as the book publisher whose bestseller is RUINING his love life. At 83, the man can still toss off a funny line...
With a very inventive 'twist-within-a-twist' climax, and Marc Shaiman's evocative score punctuating the proceedings, DOWN WITH LOVE is a delight!
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