DOWN WITH LOVE
** (out of 5)
May 16, 2003
Renee Zellweger as BARBARA NOVAK
Ewan McGregor as CATCHER BLOCK
David Hyde Pierce as PETER MACMANNUS
Sarah Paulson as VICKI HILLER
Tony Randall as THEODORE BANNER
Jeri Ryan as GWENDOLYN
Directed by: Peyton Reed
BY KEVIN CARR
What is it with early 1960s nostalgia these days? Hailed as a revisitation of the classic films of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, “Down With Love” is more of a desperate wish to return to a world before Vietnam, Internet pornography and 9/11.
In a way, “Down With Love” did capture the plastic essence of the early 1960s. The opening title sequence alone is a throwback to that era (although it seems tired and second fiddle to the similar, yet superior opening sequence to “Catch Me If You Can”). The set design and the costumes (when they aren’t so over-the-top that they were clearly designed today) really capture the moment. But other times, the filmmaking is just way too slick.
For example, there are digital effects that can only be done with today’s technology. Seeing them in this film take you out of the moment. When Quentin Tarantino tried to capture the essence of the 1970s in “Pulp Fiction,” he specifically used antiquated techniques (like rear projection for driving a car rather than the mid-1990s standard of a blue screen). Director Peyton Reed couldn’t even stick to his own rules.
Barbara Novak is a writer from rural Maine who has written a book called “Down With Love” that predates feminism and women’s lib but has all the same theories. In her book, Novak espouses her philosophy of how women can get ahead in the professional world by not falling in love. She tells women to behave like men: say “Down with Love!” and just have promiscuous sex while fulfilling the emotional need for love with chocolate.
Novak comes to Manhattan to publish her book, which becomes an overnight sensation, starting the sexual revolution in America. Philandering playboy journalist Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) is given an assignment to interview Novak, and through a string of cat-and-mouse games and wrongful assumptions, they end up hating each other. Eventually, Block goes undercover as the perfect mate to force Novak to fall in love with him, proving once and for all that she isn’t a “Down with Love” girl.
Every kitchy technique from the 1960s – from split screens to cheesy narration – is used in this film. However, many jokes seemed forced. For example, there’s a scene in which Novak and Block are on the phone, and cleverly placed split screens show sexually suggestive poses. However, this sequence has little relevance and is out of place in the rest of the film. Too much of “Down With Love” has been done more effectively in other films parodying the 1960s, like “Austin Powers.”
The biggest problem is there just isn’t a likeable character in the whole doggoned movie. David Hyde Pierce is the funniest element in this film, although his portrayal of Block’s lovesick editor Peter MacMannus is nothing more than a retread of Niles on “Frasier.” Renee Zellweger is only so-so, and her complexion is all over the map – overly made up in some scenes and so pasty white that you can see her veins in others.
Ewan McGregor, who has done a phenomenal job avoiding type casting from his role of the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, has his tongue so far in his cheek that it’s coming out his ear. The character, which tries to be charming, ends up being sleazy and touches his buddy Peter MacMannus a little too much to be a convincing romantic lead.
Contrary to what Star Trek fans everywhere will tell you, Jeri Ryan is remarkably unattractive in this film. Yes, she’s got a phenomenal body. Yes, she is presented as a sex-pot. But she’s just a little too freaky looking in the face. Playing a romance-starved flight attendant turned down-with-love girl, she is so slathered in gaudy 1960s make-up that she looks like Tammy Faye Baker’s younger sister.
At the core of “Down With Love” is a movie clutching to the loose sexual morals of the 1960s which tempted women to believe that they are no different than men – that they are as ruled by what’s below the waist. It was this thinking that has led to rampant teenage pregnancies and an unending string of guests for the Jerry Springer show. I’d like to think at least half our population can think better than a guy flipping through the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Only now, decades after the sexual revolution, do we discover that women still want love, and they continue to make a connection between love and sex. Trust me. While there are guys out there who want to settle down, most men are just happy with the sex. We need the women to make us better people.
The most unforgivable part of this film is the insanely frustrating surprise ending. Sure, I didn’t expect it, but that didn’t make it any good. Like an “it was all a dream” ending, it comes out of nowhere but is hardly satisfying. If you saw “Anger Management” and were annoyed with that reveal, you will be furious at the ending of “Down With Love.”
Watching “Down With Love” is like eating a platter of cotton candy. It’s brightly colorful and sugary sweet. However, at the end, it isn’t really satisfying and just a lot of vacuous fluff.