*/**** Image B Sound A Extras B+
starring Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson
screenplay by Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake
directed by Peyton Reed
by Walter Chaw Renée Zellweger doesn't look altogether well and Ewan McGregor appears a little bored in Peyton Reed's post-modern take on the three Doris Day/Rock Hudson innuendo operas of the late-'50s and early-'60s. An opening voiceover informs that it's "Now, 1962!" and the jokes don't get any funnier than that; Down with Love makes so many miscalculations about its cast and premise that its theatrical release concurrent with The Matrix Reloaded doesn't seem so much "counter-programming" as "hide the evidence." Its greatest crime isn't that its one joke is tiresome from the thirty-minute mark on, it's that at the end of the day the picture doesn't particularly convince as a romance, tickle as a comedy, or score as a satire of any kind.
Catcher Block (McGregor) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning magazine writer who also happens to be a legendary ladies' man. When his uptight editor, Peter (David Hyde Pierce), arranges for Catcher to interview up-and-coming feminist self-help author Barbara Novak (Zellweger), mainly so that he can woo Barbara's editor Vicki (Sarah Paulson), a cocktail-hour battle of the sexes is engaged.
Where Todd Haynes's Far From Heaven mined the subtext of Douglas Sirk's films, locating modern cinema's obsession as the uneasy illusion--the hypocrisy--of the traditional family, Down with Love is just an obnoxious magnification handcuffed, ironically, by its adherence to the dissolved Code and the new trend of political correctness. Haynes's film is homage in the best sense of the word; Reed's film is imitation in the worst. The double entendres meant to test and tease a culture on the verge of a sexual revolution are exploded here in an era where unembarrassed vulgarity and scatological humour are the rule of the day in comedies--sexual or otherwise. The result is that Down with Love's brand of wit (including an amazingly tedious mistakenly-overheard-not-penis conversation: "16 inches, and I've got two of them!") is tepid and timeworn and without any of the sociological bite that would have made it pithy instead of just puerile.
As a song-and-dance number unfurls over the end credits, it occurs, too late, that Down with Love would have been markedly better as a cheesy musical. McGregor can sing, Zellweger is a game amateur, and neither seems as uncomfortable wrapping their mouths around a quaintly misogynistic ditty as they do with chemistry, breeziness, and the logic of a film this free of insight and titillation. The set design and costumes the only reason to see it, Down with Love is post-modernism that predictably has nowhere to go and, sadly, is an orphan of both the mod and post-mod with nothing at all to say for itself. Gus Van Sant's Psycho and the Austin Powers films: strange bedfellows indeed. Originally published: May 16, 2003.
by Bill Chambers No sarcasm intended, I noticed something about Down with Love as I watched it with the DVD's director commentary activated, which is that it plays closer to intent without the original audio. Marc Shaiman's score may make clever period choices (backing eyelash flutters with a plonk of the xylophone, for instance), but almost every line of dialogue is tainted with as much irony as charm, transforming the film's script into a self-conscious anachronism. Once more or less undistracted from the look of Down with Love, you begin to notice the film's precise use of dissolves, its beautiful mattes, and the evocative inflexible camera--movies never used to recompose throughout a shot as they do know, and cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth gets that right. I wish the disc's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer* better preserved all this mise-en-scène minutiae: the image is surprisingly soft, muted, and murky, if only mildly so on each count. (The film looks more vivacious, as though it's had its lenses swabbed, in clips within the special features section.) The attached Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix is not disappointing, however: The music selections have warmth and immediacy, and there is real charge to the thunder-and-lightning show midway through the picture.
This is the first single-disc release I've come across in quite awhile that's packed to the gills with bonus material. Peyton Reed's aforementioned yak-track begins with a recitation of the screenplay's opening passages, suggesting something of a manifesto, and goes on to relate the technical challenges of recreating not only the Sixties but also filmmaking of the Sixties. Movie mavens will quickly detect his limited conversance with the romantic-comedy genre of yesteryear, as Reed states his desire to bring Saul Bass to mind with the opening credits: Bass designed the main titles for Anatomy of a Murder, Seconds, and the remake of Cape Fear, among others--not exactly the first guy you'd think of for Pillow Talk 2, in other words, and just the earliest of Down with Love's disingenuous lapses.
Elsewhere on the platter, find the "Original Network TV Performance!" of "Here's to Love" (in broadcast video format), performed by Ewan and Renee-with-an-accent, the 'Original Network telecast' of Barbara Novak's appearance on "Guess My Game", a 7-minute "blooper reel" in which the expletives are replaced with a boing! sound (sorry, gals--there's a bit where McGregor's towel falls off, but his fun parts are below frameline), a 30-second Down with Love (as in the fictitional book Zellweger's character writes) testimonial, a music promo spot (no trailers, though), and more. Reed comments optionally over five wisely-deleted scenes, the most successful of them--that is, the one possessed of the funniest punchline--taking place on a soundstage Central Park, while a 1-minute montage of "hair & wardrobe tests" stands segregated from six duly informative featurettes.
"On 'Location' with Down with Love" (3 mins.) informs that the film's background plates during the driving sequences are vintage dailies copped from My Man Godfrey and That Touch of Mink; "Creating the World of Down with Love" (3 mins.) elaborates on the construction of the film's sets; "The Costumes of Down with Love" (3 mins.) includes the contributions of enthusiastic fashion designer Daniel Orlandi, who says plainly, "I was born to do this movie" (poor bastard); "The Swingin' Sounds of Down with Love" (3 mins.) catches up with Shaiman; "Down with Love, Up with Tony Randall" (2 mins.) spells out the significance of Tony Randall's casting for the untutored viewer; and "Down with Love: Split Decisions" (3 mins.) is a fascinating overview, courtesy narration by Reed, of the choreography behind the film's telephone-call set-piece. A lame HBO making-of, notable for a curiously tactless kick-off (Zellweger asking, "Are we filming for Christ's sake?"), rounds out the disc. Down with Love arrives on DVD in a fuchsia keepcase. Originally published: August 25, 2003.