Listen to thoughtful critiques of the latest movies,
broadcast Tuesdays at 10:55am, and Wednesdays at 12:55pm.

Film Review Archive


Down with Love
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Down with Love is a strange tribute to Doris Day and Rock Hudson romantic comedies like Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk, complete with the split screen telephone conversations and a leading man whose sexuality is ever in question. Renée Zellwegger, having been typecast as successfully retro since Chicago, plays Barbara Novak, author of a book, Down with Love, designed to liberate women from the thrall of men. Ewan McGregor-also a meta-musical star, plays Catcher Block, handsome, hip, "ladies' man, man's man, man about town," lead story writer for the influential men's magazine Know.

The secondary characters are Novak's editor, Vicki, played by Sarah Paulson, the only female editor at her publishing company, and Peter MacMannus, played by David Hyde Pierce, the owner/editor of Know. In an elaborate series of twists and turns, the independent feminist yearns for marriage and domesticity, while the playboy longs to settle down, each transformative desire having something to do with the other.

The pseudo-technicolor, the costumes, music, cars and fake New York City backdrop in this movie-supposedly set in 1962-are great, glaringly "faux" tributes to the era. The acting, however, tries to imitate the stilted style of Chicago or Moulin Rouge or Ozon's Eight Women, and it just doesn't quite work. You never know whether it's because they can't act or whether they are doing it on purpose. Fans of Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedies loved the accidental mishaps and the repressed but-to postmodern viewers anyway-thoroughly obvious unconscious sexual dynamics of the films.

Down with Love, in the tradition of all-knowing, cynical, 21st century postmodernism, shouts all its double entendres and continually draws attention to the imagined gap between an innocent, repressed era and its repetition in 2003. It quotes Pillow Talk, it makes the homosexual subtexts explicit, and it imports a very recent corporate feminism as the alternative to the career girl/marriage trajectory. And yet, with all these knowing nods and winks,

Down with Love suggests that really, deep down, now that we've emerged out the other side of these last 30 years of social change, we still really want mostly the same things-except that the couple wants a corporation instead of a kid. So with all its posturing about being smarter, Down with Love comes across as somewhat less aware of its own motives than those 60s
movies were.

In short, it's hard to tell whether this movie is a parody of the romantic comedy of the 60s or a celebratory tribute-there are moments of good satire, but they get a little dazed and confused by the rest of the plot. Down with Love waivers between the two, achieving neither, nor a happy combination of both. Instead the result is awkward, confusing and, narrative-wise, badly patched together, since we have to get a whole long chunk of the plot explained to us by Zelwegger's monologue near the end of the film. I wish I could say the movie's pure fluff and you should just go see it for fun. But the constant straining it does to exaggerate its retro-imitation keeps hinting that all this must mean something-and yet, somehow, it never quite does.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is
Carla Freccero.