Down with Love (2003)


“Down with Love” has the right intentions; it’s a throwback to the old Kim Novak and Rock Hudson romantic comedies from the sixties; the hip, groovy, fluffy as a marshmallow, and very colorful romantic comedies were sometimes very entertaining, and while “Down with Love” has all the ingredients of a satire, this is never sure whether it really is a satire or a spoof. A satire is an amusing jab at a topic, a spoof is making fun of a topic and unfortunately, “Down with Love” jumps from one genre to the other so constantly throughout the progression of the film that it makes your head spin. Barbara Novak is a brutal young go-getter, a tough ballsy female writer for a magazine, a female pioneer in a male dominated society who has written a book called “Down with Love” which breaks down and analyzes all the tricks men pull with women, but can’t get it published.

Hell, she can’t even get it read by publishers. Catcher Block is a womanizing irresistible playboy reporter who goes on assignments alone, but comes back with women and a story. When Barbara manages to convince a friend of hers to get her book promoted on the Ed Sullivan show, her book is on demand and published becoming an instant worldwide hit with women everywhere in the process ruining men’s habits with women, including Catcher, whose black book is suddenly thinning down with his former mistresses no longer wanting to see him. Angered and intent on contradicting Barbara by making her fall in love with him, Catcher poses as a naive young Southern astronaut named Chip Matthews and begins to wine and dine Barbara determined to romance her and break her heart.

“Down With Love” is just a lot of fun to look at. Cinematographer Jeff Cronenworth makes this film a feast for the eyes with fluorescent colors and beautiful scenery almost taken out of a dream. The designs for the apartments featured in the film are often times very unique and odd but active and pretty for the eyes. Many of the scenes are littered with bright colors galore from couches to floors, right down to costumes which make for a grab bag of variety including Barbara’s usual clothing throughout the film. The energy of the film is high, almost capturing the spirit of the sixties with a variety of spunky characters worth remembering and good performances by Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger who look like they’re trying, and the always enjoyable David Hyde Pierce who takes the helm for the late Tony Randall as the straight man who is also compulsive and incredibly insecure.

The film succeeds in capturing the spirit of the old Rock Hudson and Kim Novak comedies. This has the makings of a really smart, funny, and clever satire, but it just goes downhill and goes about it all wrong. It’s never amusing, often very corny and cheesy, and is just mind-boggling. With stars on the top bill like Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce in the Tony Randall role (the late Randall who was in all the Novak-Hudson comedies makes a cameo here in his last performance) and with such amazing cinematography, where does it all go wrong? Simply put, it tries too hard to be cute. It has a lot of room to poke fun at these romantic comedies of the past, but it’s just superficial. For a film with so much in its corner I found it hard to believe that it would fail so much. It has so much potential to be clever but it’s goofy, it can be smart but is just obvious, and the dialogue can be witty but is just trite.

While the story is the classic battle of wits between the sexes that never really gets old, there’s nothing to like about these two characters with utterly no redeeming qualities. Novak is supposed to be the heroine, a feminist trailblazer of the times, I’m guessing this takes place in the sixties, she’s also very pushy, very shrill, and at times just annoying. Zellweger is never really convincing as a woman from the sixties and her sensibility of feminism pre-seventies is a bit far-fetched and way ahead of its time. Zellweger never seems to buy the dialogue she’s speaking in many of the situations, and it’s sad to see her try with something she seems so annoyed to be in. Ewan McGregor while I appreciate his looks, and he’s rather handsome, he’s not Rock Hudson. McGregor is miscast very much so and his looks actually work against him. His modern features and unusually modern haircut make him look as if he jumped off of a time machine and into the sixties.

He’s also hard to buy as the aggressive suave Cary Grant antagonist to Novak. Aside from that he manages many times to act too goofy which in many ways diminishes his persona as the suave ladies man. While the film can be smart and clever, it has a great concept but has no idea what to do with it. There’s not an ounce of attraction to this film as well, the plot is vapid and at times so ridiculous while the two leads never romance the audience while they’re romancing one another, and while the film is intentionally supposed to be spoofing or poking fun at the old romantic comedies, this lacks what they had: appeal, charm, and most importantly character chemistry. “Down with Love” keeps trying to be cute through the credits with a musical number featuring McGregor and Zellweger singing and dancing ala the old musicals, but by then you’ve had enough and just want to shut off the television. “Down with Love” takes a creative concept and never knows how to handle it with a less than top-notch script and terrible delivery.