Down With Love
review by Gregory Avery, 16 May 2003

Down With Love is empty -- save for the zowie decor (and despite the fact that the film has landed, in hot pink, on the cover of the latest issue of "Film Comment"). The filmmakers and production designers went to town creating a dream of modernist design for the story, the setting for which is New York City, the time -- "Now! 1962!"

They've also tried to revive the Doris Day and Rock Hudson battle-of-the-sexes comedies, with much of the same formula. Renée Zellweger plays one Barbara Novak, who has come from the sticks of Maine to promote her new book, which seeks to emancipate women by getting them to trade men for chocolate. (If this had been set some ten years later, I would have liked to have seen how someone like Erica Jong would've handled such a treatise.) Ewan McGregor, with his head (and body) hair dyed black, plays one Catcher Block, a playboy feature story writer for "Know" magazine who sets out to torpedo Novak's book (which displaces Profiles in Courage from the number one spot on the New York Times best-seller list), but the only way he can get anywhere near her is by impersonating an aw-shucks astronaut, named "Zip Martin", from Cape Canaveral (just like Rock Hudson impersonated a Texan for Doris Day in Pillow Talk).

I remember when I thought the head of our university film society was insane to program "Pillow Talk" as the end-of-term movie one semester. Knock me on the head and call me "Woody": the film, which I hadn't seen before, turned out to be a howl. A lot of the success of the Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies had to do with the surprise chemistry that develops between the two charismatic, unpretentious stars, who affectionately rib each other and aren't afraid to let themselves be ribbed, or to look a little silly during the process, in return. (Hudson's "stricken" look in Send Me No Flowers, possibly derived from the Douglas Sirk dramas he'd made in the 'Fifties, is classic.) In Down With Love, it's not as if Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor don't bring out the best in each other; they don't bring anything out in each other, and neither does the movie. Wearing a black tuxedo and tie, McGregor bends to one side to look relaxed and debonair and turns into an oblique strip of plastic with a grin such as one would see on someone waiting for the needle to go in during an anti-rabies treatment; Zellweger, dolled up in one "stylish" outfit after another (broadloom knit prints, explosions of tulle), purses her lips into a bow, talks breathily, and prances around. They're a collection of mannerisms in search of characters, and the film further adds insult to injury by giving the characters in the picture some rather, uh, unsubtle dialogue that's supposed to pass for sophisticated double-entendre. ("I've been waiting two minutes to eat your hot dog!" And, during one scene that turns out to involve a telescope, "Put your hand on it and tell me when you get it in the right spot.")

The secondary leads fare no better. David Hyde Pierce pretty much repeats his Niles Crane performance in the T.V. show Frasier to play McGregor's Tony Randall-ish sidekick. (Randall himself puts in a few brief, and magisterial, appearances, showing us how it's done.) And, as a book editor who befriends Barbara in the city, Sarah Paulson is sometimes enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke that seems to be an attempt to satirize how cigarette smoking has been banished from most of our current movies and living spaces.

The film does accomplish one dazzling moment, when Barbara's book is promoted on the Ed Sullivan show when Sullivan introduces a guest who will sing "a song of the book": Judy Garland, herself, who then performs "Down With Love", the Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg song that we just heard, newly performed, over the film's animated, precocious opening credits. McGregor and Zellweger perform a new song (co-written by Marc Shaiman) over the closing credits, in a sequence that painstakingly, and fondly, recreates the look of the "thrilling" new medium that was then color television. As for the rest of Down With Love, it is a valentine without a center.

Directed by:
Peyton Reed

Renée Zellweger
Ewan McGregor
David Hyde Pierce
Sarah Paulson
Tony Randall

Written by:
Eve Ahlert
Dennis Drake

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.






  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.