out of Five
Running time: 94
The comedy flip-side to Far From Heaven, Down With Love is an absolute treat for movie-fans, with Zellweger and McGregor on top form and hilarious comic support from David Hyde Pierce.
It’s safe to say that if you’ve never seen a Rock Hudson / Doris Day movie (more specifically, Pillow Talk) then the central joke of Down With Love is likely to be lost on you. Brilliantly directed by Peyton Reed (who made Bring It On), Down With Love, is a note-perfect pastiche of the brightly coloured 1960s battle of the sexes comedies that Hudson and Day used to make.
As such, it’s more or less the comedy flip-side to Far From Heaven (also based on a Rock Hudson movie) and a sumptuous treat for movie-fans to boot.
The film opens with the old-fashioned Twentieth Century Fox logo – the kind you still see on Saturday matinees on BBC2 – swiftly followed by a
cartoonish credit sequence, both of which are presumably designed to induce ‘old movie nostalgia’ and set you up for what’s to come.
Renee Zellweger takes the Doris Day part as novelist Barbra Novak, who has written the ‘feminist’ best-seller Down With Love, encouraging women to stand up for themselves in the boardroom as well as in the bedroom.
Meanwhile, chauvinistic star journalist Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor in the Rock Hudson part) bets his editor Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce) that he can seduce Novak and prove that she’s a traditional girl at heart, in order to write a scathing exposé. However, Novak is wise to his womanising ways and to get close to her he has to pretend to be someone else…
The plot, then, closely follows that of Pillow Talk and the film also has fun with the saucy use of split-screen techniques that made Pillow Talk famous. In that film, Hudson and Day appeared to be sharing a bath, but here the joke is a little more risqué, if no less amusing.
Script And Performances Superb
The script and the performances are superb, with Zellweger and McGregor both perfectly cast and clearly enjoying themselves – McGregor’s ‘cool cat’ walk is a delight and Zellweger has a lengthy, breathless comic monologue towards the end of the film that is both hilarious and impressive in that you can’t help wondering how many takes she needed to get it right.
That said, the biggest laughs of the film belong to David Hyde Pierce (in the Tony Randall ‘best friend’ role, though Randall himself also appears as the publishing boss). Pierce is extremely funny – he gets all the best lines and pretty much steals the film, especially in his scenes with Sarah Paulson. His every appearance is a comic highlight and if he isn’t at least nominated for a Golden Globe then there is, officially, no justice.
In short, Down With Love is a well-acted, brightly-coloured romantic comedy of the sort that ‘they just don’t make anymore’. It is, of course, entirely possible that the joke will be lost on mainstream audiences, but for film fans everywhere this is an unadulterated treat. Recommended.