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Down With Love (PG-13)
20th Century Fox
Official Site
Director: Peyton Reed
Producers: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
Written by: Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall

Rating: out of 5

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.

—Roxanne Bogucka

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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