Down with Love (12a)

Sep 15, 2004
Cranbrook Film Society

Down with Love is a nostalgic pastiche which emulates the romantic comedies of the 1960s, where sworn enemies eventually fall in love. There is a strong influence of 1959’s Pillow Talk and 1961’s Lover Come Back, both of which starred Doris Day and Rock Hudson.

It opens with the 1960s, 20th Century Fox logo, then proudly announces that it has been filmed in Cinemascope. The period illusion continues through the corny opening credits and into the film, which takes place in 1962 and looks as if it were filmed then. Great attention has been paid to detail, and some members will no doubt be on the lookout for anachronisms!

The music, cinematography and editing are much in keeping with the era. There are no rapid cuts or cutting-edge camera angles. Wardrobe and set design flawlessly evoke New York City as it was in ’60s movies – not necessarily as it was in real life.

Everything is simple and straightforward, relying on dialogue and character interaction to involve the viewer.

Renée Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, a women’s advice columnist who arrives in New York having written a book called Down With Love. In the book she announces a new type of woman who will not be subservient to men in the workplace and who will call her own shots in the bedroom.

Ewan McGregor plays a successful, womanising, playboy journalist, Catcher Block (great name?), who has to write an article about Barbara Novak and her book – both of which he manages to totally dismiss. However, when the book becomes a huge success he can’t even get an interview with her. Determined to prove that she is a fraud; someone only interested “in love and marriage like all women”, he creates a false personality, astronaut Major Zip Martin, in order to seduce her. Predictably, she falls for him and he falls for her.

Mistaken identity, sneaky behaviour and trickery are the essence of the film. But, unlike the Rock Hudson/Doris Day formula of the inevitably happy ending, this film has twists and surprises right up to the end credits.

Watch out for a walk-on cameo by 83 year old Tony Randall, who played Rock Hudson’s sidekick in Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.

The highlight of the film is a five minute, high speed monologue from Renée Zellweger as Catcher Block gets his comeuppance. The camera remains static as words pour forth from her character’s innermost soul.

The smart graphic credit titles, split screen and use of bright colours, come from director Peyton Reed, who has directed many TV series but few feature films. He has clearly studied the films he is emulating, because his style is perfect and he has addressed the common complaint of old-time film-goers that “they don’t make movies the way they used to”.

Is Down with Love a homage to the 1960s sex comedies or a parody? You decide.

Peyton Reed | USA | 2003 | 101 minutes | 12a