By David Mumpower
May 12, 2003
You will know within the first five minutes whether or not you are going to enjoy Down With Love. Like the quirky Moulin Rouge before it, the tone set in the introductory sequence is used to establish a mood that will prove largely divisive to viewers. As with the prior Ewan McGregor outing, Down With Love will certainly possess its share of impassioned zealots who preach of its virtue with orgiastic vehemence. I find myself surprised to discover I will be aligned with this group.
First off, I should admit an important bias here. Down With Love is a spin on the classic '60s film Pillow Talk. While not exactly a remake, it does celebrate all of the kitschy conventions of the flower child era and particularly Doris Day films. You know the ones. Day, the ultimate good girl, meets some hotshot bachelor who embraces the Hugh Hefner lifestyle while still managing to be a hugely successful businessman and possessing a carefully hidden heart of gold. If you don't enjoy those, I would say you are unlikely to do anything but yawn loudly throughout the 2003 update. The man sitting in front of us at the critics screening certainly did. If you are like me, however, and find those films to be irresistibly charming, you probably don't even need to read the rest of this review. You already know that Down with Love is a movie you are going to enjoy.
For the people who fall somewhere in the middle between loving Doris Day films and wanting to perform amateur open heart surgery on her for creating such cinematic trifles, here is the information you need about the movie. Effervescent and bubbly BOP fave Renee Zellweger is cleverly cast in the Doris Day role. While some might think it's because of her more cheerful work in outings such as Jerry Maguire, the reality is that Down With Role finds her portraying a character who is closer in spirit to her Nurse Betty creation.
As Barbara "Don't call me Kim despite the similar hair" Novak, Zellweger often comes across as the proverbial deer in the headlights while falling head over heels at the feet of Ewan McGregor's ultimate '60s player, Catcher Block. By the end of the movie, we have come to view her in a new light, which may or may not work for the audience, but certainly gives us a deeper appreciation for what has been happening to her throughout the festivities. As a kicker, she also recites one of the longest uninterrupted speeches in the history of cinema. The damn thing might have gone on past two minutes. I didn't think to put a stopwatch on it until it was too late but I certainly find myself wondering in hindsight about its length.
The story is precariously basic, as was the case with everything Doris Day ever did. Novak, the small town girl, arrives in the big city looking to set Gotham on its ear through her self-help book for women. Block, a world famous magazine journalist, blows her off three times in a 24-hour period to have freaky deak sex with three different stewardesses on layovers. Fastidious yet sunnily disposed mynx that she is, Barbara resolves to make that callous playboy regret his lecherous philanderings and awful manners by becoming the biggest gosh-darned literary success story in recent memory, then blowing him off when he needs to interview her, the new media sensation. That's impossible anywhere, of course, especially in the period of a week or two, except in a Doris Day movie...or a remake of one.
Swept up in their flotsam and jetsam are Barbara's editor, Vikki Hiller (played by the wonderful Sarah Paulson of Jack & Jill fame), and Catcher's boss at Know magazine, Peter MacMannus. Of particular note here is the casting of David Hyde Pierce as MacMannus. I consider the placing of him in the Tony Randall role from the original as a masterstroke. Also, I absolutely love the nod of respect to what Randall's comedic stylings meant to these sorts of films by stunt casting the man himself as the owner of Catcher and Peter's magazine. No film of this nature should be made without him.
Now, Peter MacMannus is a bit of a dandy but make no mistake about it. He loves the ladies (you might have otherwise been confused about that if he didn't clearly state it innumerable times throughout the proceedings) and in particular, he's smitten by Barbara, the only lady who has ever given him the time of day. These crazy kids are trying to work it out but poor innocent bystanders though they may be, they keep getting dragged into the constant battle of the sexes between proto-feminist Novak and beta bad boy Block.
Down with Love also features a surprising twist or two along the way which firmly reminds us that we are watching a 2003 production rather than a TBS Saturday morning matinee. Of course, there are also voluminous double entendres throughout the proceedings which accomplish the same task. Never has the split screen mechanism for phone conversations seemed so positively filthy as when Catcher and Barbara converse.
If you have rolled your eyes at any of the above, this is again a sign that Down With Love probably isn't going to do much for you. I assure you, though, that all of the events unfold with the gentle warmth of a morning hug as director Peyton Reed (yes, the Bring It On guy) manages to spoof the '60s Good Girl Falls for Bad Boy comedies while still finding a way to celebrate them. All of the conventions from the genre are included, straight down to the dozens of ridiculous costume changes for the women (which somehow all occur in the span of a single day) and the Paint the Town Red tour of various street signs, city landmarks and nightspots which may somehow all be visited in the span of a single peppy jazz number.
I expect the complaints about Down with Love to be largely of the pick a side variety since most people want either a spoof or a celebration rather than a combination of the two. In many instances, I have felt this way about a movie that left me cold so I generally find this argument valid. Somehow in viewing Down with Love, though, I can only describe my emotional reaction in the most basic of terms. It made me feel happy. Any movie that accomplishes this deserves any praise I may offer and at this, the near-midway point of 2003, I consider it to be the best film I have seen so far this year.
Read what She Said.