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Down With Love
Directed By:  Peyton Reed
Written By:  Eve Ahlert & Dennis Drake
Starring:  Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sexual humor and dialogue

    It's New York City in 1962, and love is in the air... or is it deception?  Seems that Barbara Novak, played by Renee Zellweger, has written a book entitled 'Down With Love', a daring new recipe for successful feminism in a man's world.  Ms. Novak is a feminist... a pretty, perky, blonde feminist, that is.  Before her book can usher in (or is it usherette?) a new era for the women of the world, she has to let those female masses know that it exists. 
    Enter Catcher Block, played by Ewan McGregor.  Catch is a womanizing jet-setter who's so suave and debonnaire he could give even James Bond an inferiority complex!  He writes for a big New York men's magazine, the kind that tends to look down on the equality-minded efforts of the modern woman. 
    Is it any wonder then, that Ms. Novak wishes to promote her revolutionary vision by having Catcher's magazine feature her book within its chauvinistic pages?  Not if the forces of retro-romantic comedies have anything to do with it!  Ms. Novak is determined to help herald a new age of liberation for women, and, at the same time, scare the pants off those awful old men who think they run the planet!  Meanwhile, Catcher sees an opportunity to turn things back to his advantage, by putting Miss Barbie Novak back in her subservient place.
     Yes, the stage is set for much merriment, as C.B. and B.N. wage a bubbly battle of the sexes, with T.L. (True Love) the only casualty.  Unfortunately, the same cannot always be said for this movie's screenplay.  While taking inspiration from Doris Day films like That Touch of Mink and Pillow Talk, Down With Love makes the nearly fatal mistake of sinking into nostalgia parody, rather than witty homage.  Its biggest sin is one of self-awareness, its stars barely able to contain how cheeky they think they're being.  A more serious character tone would probably have been funnier.  I was also surprised by the complete lack of chemistry between Zellweger and McGregor!  Where is a casting agent, or for that matter, a casting couch when you really need one?  As far as anti-romantic repartee is concerned, the lowest points include many required split-screen telephone calls between Block and Novak, one serving only as the basis for some less than amusing sexual sight gags. 
     However, these flaws aside, Down With Love does have some very entertaining moments.  Much of this is due to David Hyde Pierce, best known as Dr. Niles Crane on the television show Fraiser.  Here, he is just as you would expect... exactly the same.  (Hey, he's good at it!)  His performance as Peter MacMannus, Catcher's timid and fussy editor, is a triumph of comic timing, his antics consistently outshining those of his co-stars.  Also, director Peyton Reed has a great eye for recreating the atmosphere of those late 50's and early 60's romantic farces, with the sets and costumes hilariously echoing those of films starring Rock and Doris.  Lastly, there is a fun musical number tacked onto the end-credits, which, while it has nothing to do with the story, does go far toward redeeming the movie's earlier mis-steps.  At least Down With Love remembers to leave its audience smiling!
    So, while it doesn't always hit the mark, Down With Love is still worth a look for lovers of romantic comedies.  And besides, how could I possibly pan another movie starring the lovely, talented, and above all, adorable Miss Renee Zellweger?! 
    (Sorry, Renee... but Me, Myself, & Irene?  Phew!)
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A.J.'s Rating: 2.5 Retromantic Stars
Review published
May 19, 2003
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