Down With Love (2003) — A perfect ’60s romcom spoof

“I got waylaid by the sweetest Swedish Lapphund who kept me up half the night.”

PoolMan’s rating: Makes you wonder how they’ll be lampooning today’s movies in 2043.

PoolMan’s review: I’ve begun to wonder, during my extended tenure here at Mutant Reviewers, exactly what Justin’s breaking point will be, and if it ever actually will be reached at all. This is the man, after all, who let me write reviews of such “cult” films as U-571 and Wing Commander. Surely there’s got to be some way of making him snap? Legally Blonde reruns? Doom Generation double headers? All the odd-numbered Trek movies? The man is a pizza pie of zen coolness, dotted with the anchovies of patience. Nothing bothers him, unless you dress his dog in really froo-froo clothing, and that takes an exact knowledge of knowing which flower pot his apartment key is under (hint: it’s the blue one!).

However, I have a plan. I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, the path to his insanity lies in the endless submission of romantic comedy after romantic comedy to the annals of Mutant History! Sadly, I could probably drag him to Down With Love, and he’d probably come out just fine. Curses!

So what’s this whole flick all about? Sadly underhyped, Down With Love is a farce on ’60s era romantic/sex pictures. Only instead of Rock Hudson, Doris Day, and Tony Randall, we get Ewan McGregor, Renee Zellywiggle, and David Hyde Pierce. The fun part is really the fact that this modern day cast is dropped back into the ’60s again.

Set in 1962, we follow the adventures of Barbara Novak (Zellweger), a feminist author who writes a book (the titular Down With Love) designed to free women from the confines of being in love, opening their eyes to the world of carefree sex. Hotshot playboy writer Catcher Block (McGregor) is dispatched by Know Magazine (a ’60s version of Maxim) to expose Novak as a fraud by making her fall in love with him. Of course, this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy if he didn’t fall in love with her right back. He becomes a made up American astronaut named Zip Martin to woo her, and the games begin.

The thing that works best for this movie is its willingness to stare in the mirror at itself and wink and wink and wink. Everything is played with the smugness of being a 21st century movie looking back at a distinctly 20th century style, and knowing exactly how to make all those tired and worn clichés work wonders. The colour pallet is all primary paints and dark panel woods, constantly flinging the viewer back in time to the days of puke green kitchen sets. Characters are more often than not caricatures, one degree deep only. And the exposition… OH, the exposition. Rather than be subtle with a single aspect of the plot, the characters just barf up their lines in hilariously obvious streams of dialogue when there’s story to introduce (one particularly painful and memorable scene has Renee Zellweger delivering a long stream of uninterrupted diatribe for what must be literally three or four minutes, but it’s absurdly funny). It’s remarkably good fun to see these characters full of the naivete that made the movies of forty years ago so nostalgically popular.

I can’t wait for this movie to come out on DVD, because it’s going to be a treasure trove of quotes when it finally does. The dialogue is sharp and fast moving, and there’s good chemistry between the principal players. I’m not a particularly big fan of Ms. Squinty McDoesnteatenough, but her and Obi Wan obviously had fun together shooting this, and it really shows. Toss in Hyde Pierce as a neurotic man with therapists and woman issues (honestly, is there any better human embodiment of the word ‘typecast’?), and you’ve got a great cast, a fun story, and a movie with enough sense to realize it’s as flimsy as one of Justin’s nightgowns, but just decides to run with it. File this one as one of the best Romanticoms since When Harry Met Sally, and take along the most cuddly Italian overlord you know.

Kyle’s rating: That Catcher Block sure does have great hair!

Kyle’s review: Let me just say that based on the great reviews of Down With Love that I read through the months, including Poolman’s incredibly exuberant one, I was really looking forward to finally seeing this movie. In fact, when I was in Colorado they were selling the DVD like a month before the real release date, and I was so psyched to see it I almost paid the $30 just to not only have it, but also to have it ahead of time and feel that delicious pang of “I’ve done something bad but if I get caught I’ll turn on the store and make a deal and get away with everything while the store goes out of business.” I love that feeling.

I also, now, love Down With Love. It’s the grooviest! I’m actually none too familiar with the “zany” ‘60s comedies that are being homaged/lampooned with this film, but I was able to infer enough about them through this movie to know what the originals were like and how the originals were funny in a way that this movie heightened to great comic affect so everything is funny but there is also real stuff going on as well! *whew!* I like it! I don’t even mind that as a result of owning Down with Love on DVD, I now have a bright pink DVD case resting with my other manly black ones. That’s the price you pay, I suppose.

Okay, so Ewan MacGregor is this insanely suave ladies’ man Catcher Block (think the American James Bond but still with an accent) who butts heads and eventually hearts (it’s possible; I’ve done it!) with Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger), who in this universe is the alpha and omega of women’s liberation. Catcher, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who specializes in explosive exposés (I’m not sure if that’s where the accent should go, but I like it!), decides to take Novak down after her advice to women greatly infringes upon his weekly dating schedules. I think we all know what that’s like, you know? So he has a nefarious plan to use against her, but she’s smarter than he thinks, and some stuff happens, and David Hyde Pierce is funny in a way that lets you laugh at non-PC things without feeling like an awful person, and everything is so light and airy that you know everyone will probably end up married anyway and it’s like a Shakespeare comedy so you turn off the television when it’s over and just laugh and laugh, just ‘cause. Ah, movies.

Yep, Down with Love certainly did not get the attention or the “props” it deserved. It’s not much of a romantic comedy, truthfully, but if you think of it as a spoof of those ‘60s movies that also tries to function as a romantic comedy, then you’ve found comedy gold! Gold, I tell you! The four leads are great, Ewan is particularly awesome as the guy everyone wants to be but so few of us are (thankfully I’m awesome as well) and Pierce is funny as the nervous neurotic guy that awesome people (like me) usually pal around with to help for karmic purposes and to bounce ideas off of (I’m so awesome). The girls (or “chicks,” if you will) were okay, but the friend of The Zellweger was a lot more reminiscent of a ‘60s gal than The Zellweger was. It wasn’t enough to make me look up her name, but she was still great.

So unless you have a thing against the 1960s, or you yourself are one of those nerdy neurotic types and would be terrified of going out into public to possibly rent Down with Love, you should go see this anyway. It’s terrific! You probably won’t learn anything, nor will you be able to find love and marriage in a matter of a week or so like Catcher can, but that’s just life. We’ll all get by, I promise! Till then, watch Down with Love. It’s up with fun! Am I going to end on that one? Hmm, I guess I am!

Didja notice?

  • Another day, another jittery, neurotic Niles-clone for David Hyde Pierce.
  • And they say Ewan McGregor couldn’t play Bond? Poppycock!
  • Classic Austin Powers split screen action!
  • I love the expression on Catcher’s face when Barbara explains the whole thing to him near the end.
  • Every horned up character keeps reaching for that chocolate.
  • That moon’s in a hurry!
  • Love the matching outfits on Vicki and Barbara.
  • Look, it’s Judy Garland! What a great scene with her singing the theme song.
  • Seven of Nine with an English accent and a smile… what’s the world coming to?
  • All the double-initialed bosses.

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