Reviewed by: Megan Basham CONTRIBUTOR
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger, Sarah Paulson, Rachel Dratch, David Hyde Pierce | Directed by: Peyton Reed | Produced by: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks | Written by: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake | Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Remember those bygone days when Doris Day and Rock Hudson sugared up the screen with charming, utterly implausible confections that made us all want to live in a Hollywood movie? Okay, neither do I, but I do remember my high school days of having girlfriends over to rent the videos and wishing I could remember such a time. Anyone with a similar yearning probably also had high hopes for “Down with Love”, a campy new romp intended to invoke the spirit of films like “Pillow Talk”, “Lover Come Back”, and “Send Me No Flowers”.
Here, Renée Zellweger inhabits the Doris Day role as Barbara Novak, a cool blonde who sets the publishing (and dating) world on its ear by writing a manifesto on relationships titled Down with Love. In it, she advises women to eschew the traditional pursuits of love and marriage in favor of focusing on their careers while “enjoying sex the way men do—a la carte.” After the book takes off, launching a feminist revolution in living rooms across America, world-famous journalist (and world-famous ladies’ man) Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) makes it his business to expose the author for the conventional, marriage-minded woman she is by making her fall in love with him. And so the zaniness begins.
Unfortunately, though director Peyton Reed captures the look and feel of those older films, he never does manage to capture their spirit. Whereas the Day/Hudson dialogue was peppered with a measured amount of innuendo, this film positively wallows in it. And the brazen result is something much closer to Austin Powers than Pillow Talk. The story wavers between paying homage to those famous sixties flicks and outright skewering them. It ends up feeling like a schizophrenic episode covered in whip cream—sweet and airy on the outside, with potential danger lurking underneath. On the one hand, you have Barbara advocating hard-bitten careerism, even as she uses her job for her own romantic end. On the other, you have Catcher campaigning for traditional roles at the same time that he’s chasing every skirt in town. The compromise these competing worldviews finally settles on seems superficial and unsatisfying at best.
Making Zellweger’s character a sexual aggressor destroys the genre’s recipe for success. There was a reason Day’s girl-next-door embodied unbending virtue: by her example, she was able to show Hudson’s lothario the error of his ways. Eventually, “Down with Love” reaches the same conclusion, convincing both parties love is all they need, but by the time they get there, the truth looks like a lie. I mean, if everyone was enjoying so much free love before, what’s the point in settling down anyway? We cheered when Hudson threw away his little black book; when MacGregor does the same, the first thought that comes to mind is a resounding “bummer man.”
And this really is too bad as the set design, costuming, and even acting style perfectly echo the films that inspired them. David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson are particularly effective in their roles as sidekicks. But the innocent fun of the originals is lost in a sea of mixed messages and explicit sight gags. You may still decide to brave those waters, but for teens and under, I recommend a trip to the classics section of the nearest Blockbuster.