'Down With Love' is fraught with laughs
By Jack Garner
Gannett News Service
|DOWN WITH LOVE (PG-13) Three Stars (Good)
A colorful if overly obvious pastiche, based on the early '60s romantic comedies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor co-star as the unlikely lovers in a sophisticated Manhattan of the imagined past. Peyton Reed directs. 20th Century Fox, 100 minutes.
Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor play characters in the user-friendly mode of Day and Hudson, two well-scrubbed All-American types whose flirtatious performances in "Pillow Talk" and "Lover Come Back" made them the box office champs of the Camelot era.
And like their well-scrubbed predecessors, Zellweger and McGregor play young sophisticates who fall in love, despite holding diametrically opposed points of view on romance, sex and a woman's place in the world.
After the period Cinemascope logo and an opening created from perfect '60s animation, we're led into the film's idealized playground, a sparkling Manhattan of yesteryear, complete with a cardboard moon that springs to life.
The setting is a central character, and has been marvelously rendered in all its Hollywood grandeur by production designer Andrew Laws, who appears to have been inspired by Frank Sinatra album covers and early '60s Playboy magazines.
Marc Shaiman provides a perfect score of ring-a-ding-ding lounge music, as well as a new song for the swinging lovers, sung over the end credits by the film's two stars.
Zellweger is Barbara Novak, a New England writer who arrives in New York just as her pre-feminist manifesto, "Down With Love" is about to hit bookstores. In it, she proposes a "no" to romance and a "yes" to careers for women, as well as the then-outlandish concept that women should adapt the same sex-for-sex's sake attitudes of men.
The book becomes a sensation, attracting the attention of Catcher Block (McGregor) a devil-may-care star writer for Know, the top men's magazine of the day. Aptly described in the movie notes as "a ladies man/man's man/man about town," Block wants to expose Novak in his magazine, and goes undercover to try to make her fall in love with him.
Thus begins the rounds of dating and deception, romance and rigmarole, as both play games with each other's minds and hearts.
Cheering or booing on the sidelines are Barbara's chain-smoking editor Vikki (Sarah Paulson) and Catch's neurotic and persnickety friend and boss, Peter (David Hyde Pierce).
Pierce is particularly suited for this type of role played in the three Day-Hudson movies by Tony Randall. He's the second coming of the young Randall. Meanwhile, the old master himself shows up in a couple of brief scenes, giving this pastiche his imprimatur.
Indeed, "Down With Love" gets the style and flavor absolutely right, and the script by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake features all the wit, innuendo, contrivances and conveniences to match its famous precursors.
Ultimately, "Down With Love's" only substantial failing is its too-obvious approach to parody. The concept is smart and obvious. The filmmakers don't need to elbow us in the ribs and wink. Yet, they do.
Zellweger, in particularly, takes the broad approach, walking with a flamboyant sashay and making big gestures. McGregor offers a more restrained and effective performance that more convincingly generates its humor and nostalgia.
"Down With Love" would have soared if it had been played with more subtlety, letting filmgoers discover the joke for themselves.
Still, "Down With Love's" delights are real, its jokes are funny and its affections are heartfelt. We just don't need them underscored.
Rated PG-13, with sexual by-play and innuendo.