We’ve had weeks now to contemplate Ms. Zellweger’s
simper and Mr. McGregor’s smirk, on cutouts
in theater lobbies across the land. Now, at last, we get to
see what’s putting the sparkle in their eyes. Down With
Love, set in the 1962 NYC of Doris Day-Rock Hudson
sex comedies, is a fond tribute to those meringues, in a bald,
obvious, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more way.
Novak (Zellweger), a Vermont librarian, takes the New York
publishing world by storm with her manifesto, Down With
Love, which advises women to just say no to romance and
yes to careers and no-strings-attached sex. Hearing of this
heresy, writer Catcher Block (McGregor), “man’s man, ladies’
man, man about town,” makes it his business to capture Novak’s
heart while denying her, uh, his essence. It’s a fun and funny
flip on those Doris Day comedies, where male characters’ job
was to chase sex, and the females’ job was to remain intact.
Writers Ahlert and Drake also toss in a pinch
of Sex And The Single Girl. Down With Love’s Barbara
Novak, like the Helen Gurley Brown character, has written
a bombshell of a book, with a premise that may not necessarily
reflect how she actually lives her life.
Playing off such familiar source material allows the writers
to plunge straight into the stylized, cotton-candy world of
a early sixties romantic comedy, complete with high-school
level double entendres. Apparently the writers, big fans of
the Day-Hudson oeuvre, specified quite a bit of the look and
feel of the movie in their script. The result is swinging
jazz, split-screen action, big, bright colors, obvious backdrops,
and process shots galore. The letter-perfect sets (Profiles
In Courage on the bookshelves) and costumes (which may
create a world shortage in pink) are as much fun to look at
as the actors, who are all mostly on their very campy game.
For my money, McGregor channels a bit more Cary than
Rock. Remember, McGregor is a scrawny guy; a large part of
Hudson’s impact was his towering physique. How to put this?
Rock was male, but Cary—he was A Man. Anyway, Catcher has
the best suits, the most willing babes, and a space-age bachelor
pad a bit like the Kiss Me Deadly apartment, all modcons.
McGregor clearly has fun with his role, though he does a
really dreadful Texas accent. But hey, recall that cornpone
Texas accent Rock affected in Pillow Talk? Think like
a ‘60s guy. It’s not supposed to be good enough to fool a
three-year-old child, just a blonde woman. It’s hard to imagine
who else could have been cast as Novak. Zellweger captures
the Doris Day grin, but Day’s wonderfully funny way with outrage
eludes her. A frantic David Hyde Pierce has the traditional
Tony Randall role as Catcher’s boss and best pal, David
McMannus. He’s smitten with Vicki Hiller (an excellent Poulson),
Barbara’s editor and second, but unlike Catcher, McMannus
is no player. In fact, he’s the anti-player. Pierce often
is cast as these hapless romantic losers, probably because
he’s the best at making audiences care about the insecure,
tic-laden guy they’re laughing at.
Down With Love reminds me of another recent homage
to late ‘50s/early ‘60s Technicolor movies, 8 Women,
in that both employ intelligent storytelling in the service
of wacky tales of very little consequence. Both, I suspect,
will become cult favorites. Recommended.