Down With Love

2003, Movie, PG-13, 110 mins


A meticulous and oddly leaden homage to the cotton-candy colored sex comedies of the late 1950s and early '60s, particularly those starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall. New York City, 1962: Small-town librarian Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) pens a scandalous pre-feminist manifesto, "Down With Love," advising women to stop dating, get jobs and eat plenty of endorphin-producing chocolate until they're sufficiently liberated from romantic illusions to enjoy recreational rolls in the hay like men. Through the machinations of her ambitious editor, Vicki Hiller (Sarah Paulson, in the archetypal Eve Arden role), Barbara's book becomes an international phenomenon, even without the cover profile of Barbara in swanky "Know" magazine Vicki was promised by milquetoast publisher Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce, in the Randall role). Peter had assigned "ladies man, man's man, and man about town" Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) to the piece, but Catcher repeatedly stood up Barbara to tryst with gullible stewardesses; by the time he realized he'd missed a major story, she refused to speak to him. As Barbara's book inspires women to wash their hands of lecherous lotharios, Catcher the cad plots to avenge the male sex; he'll make Barbara fall for him, then write an unflattering expose revealing the starry-eyed hausfrau hidden within the "Down With Love" girl. Wacky complications ensue as Catcher discards his sexy Scottish burr (McGregor's natural accent) to masquerade as aw-shucks Texas astronaut Zip Martin, and Barbara models a spectacular array of retro fashions. The filmmakers' knowledge of "sophisticated" bedroom farces of the '60s is evident, particularly their familiarity with PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1961), which both feature Day as an independent businesswoman, Hudson as a devious womanizer trying to seduce her and Randall as the fey best friend. But the social anxieties that informed those films — primarily confusion about the rapidly changing roles of men and women at home and in the workplace — are ancient history, and without them, the giddy intrigues seem merely arch and mannered. So when director Peyton Reed carefully duplicates the wholesomely risque, split-screen telephone conversation sequence for which PILLOW TALK is famous, he reimagines it with a vulgarity worthy of an AUSTIN POWERS film. And that's the trouble overall: The film is juvenile when it should be adult, coarse when it ought to be bubbly, and upfront when witty circumspection is indicated. The result feels a bit like a drag show, a camp blend of pitch-perfect mimicry and anachronistic raunch. The film's design is so luscious you want to lick it off the screen, but the sniggering tone leaves a bad taste. McGregor and Hyde Pierce almost make the juvenile double-entendres sound clever while the rest of the cast is roundly defeated by the film's affectations. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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