|Down With Love
In 2002, Todd Haynes earned critical acclaim for FAR FROM HEAVEN,
his riff on the classic woman's weepie that examined buried subtext in 1950s
melodrama. Clearly director Peyton Reed and screenwriters Eve Ahlert and
Dennis Drake intended to do something similar for the 1960s sex comedies
that co-starred Doris Day and Rock Hudson when they teamed for
DOWN WITH LOVE. Where Haynes dug into social taboos like
homosexuality and miscegenation in a dramatic context, Reed and
company take a lighthearted approach to women's rights and equality.
On paper, this must have looked like a surefire hit. The stars, Renée
Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, were both coming off leading roles in hit
musicals, the dialogue was punchy and filled with mild double entrendres.
The supporting cast was led by David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson, and
the movie makers even landed Tony Randall (a mainstay in the Day-Hudson
flicks) to make a cameo appearance. With flashy, stylized sets (designed by
Andrew Laws), eye-popping costumes (by Daniel Orlandi), the
cinematography of Jordan Cronenweth and a kicky musical score that
combines standards with Marc Shaiman's compositions, all the elements
seemed to be in place for a romp.
So what went wrong? Well, for starters, as much as she's a fine actress,
Renée Zellweger is no Doris Day. She captures the modern edge to Barbara
Novak, the mysterious writer from New England who pens a proto-feminist
book Down With Love which argues that women should be entitled to
the same things as men in all aspects of life, from the boardroom to the
bedroom. But Zellweger doesn't have that light comic touch that was Day's
forte. McGregor is more of a modern Cary Grant, projecting a savoir faire
as magazine writer Catcher Block, a man's man who is also an accomplished
ladies' man. (He's not above using sex to get a story and he owns every
conceivable gadget. Indeed, Block seems to be able to tap into the same
supplier as James Bond.)
While this purports to be a romantic comedy, there are unfortunately
no sparks between Ms. Zellweger and Mr. McGregor. Some on screen pairings
are blessed with chemistry and others aren't. In this case, both leads have
better luck playing off their supporting actors. Zellweger and Paulson, as
a lone female editor, make a terrific distaff team, while McGregor and
Pierce, as the magazine's editor, have an easy camaraderie. In fact, a
running gag in the film is that Paulson's character thinks Pierce's editor is
secretly in love with McGregor's writer when in fact he wants nothing better
than to marry her. Again, on paper, this has tremendous possibilities, but
in the final product, it doesn't gel.
The convoluted screenplay also features a rather odd twist. All that
can be said without ruining the plot, is that this "surprise" allows Zellweger
to deliver a tour de force monologue. All of sudden, things begin to get
interesting and the actress more than rises to the challenge. But,
unfortunately, it's too little too late.
Reed generally handles the uneven material with a solid hand, but
the take off of phone conversations (the only means in the 1960s in which
Day and Hudson could be seen in bed together, albeit via split screen)
come off as crude and distasteful, as well as beneath the dignity of the
two leads. McGregor looks raffish and acts charming, and walks away with
the top thespian honors, followed by Paulson's career woman and Pierce's
fussy magazine honcho.
It's a shame that DOWN WITH LOVE wastes its potential. What
could have been a fun romp turns out to be a disappointment. I would
recommend seeing this only for Ewan McGregor; otherwise, it would be
better to rent PILLOW TALK and see how this type of film should be done.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual humor and dialogue
Running time: 101 minutes
Viewed at Clearview's Chelsea Theater
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.