Down With Love

         In 2002, Todd Haynes earned critical acclaim for
 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
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.      

              Rating:                       C-
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.