Over / Under: Down with Love
by Matt Goldberg
April 26, 2008
For an introduction to this weekly retrospective column titled Over / Under written by Matt Goldberg, please visit the first post in the series.
At first glance, Down with Love may seem like nothing more than a lighthearted spoof of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson screwball romantic comedies like Lover Come Back, Pillow Talk, and Send Me No Flowers; and it's certainly invoking those classic films. But Down with Love is also a strange but wonderful amalgam of parody, tribute, and farce.
What's refreshing about Down with Love is that it's been retrofitted to be a little more overt than its predecessors. It's not raunchy but there's no production code or moral rigidity to adhere to, so the film has the freedom to have some fun with a split-screen sex scene or a bit revolving around homosexuality and erections. And that's not to say that there weren't homosexual undertones between Hudson and Tony Randall and that those undertones couldn't be played for a laugh, but I think Down with Love would have a more difficult time getting through the censors if it was made during the late-50s/early-60s despite the loosening of the code's moral standards.
But without Peyton Reed's direction and pitch-perfect casting, Down with Love would simply be a cute concept that would grow tiresome after ten minutes. This is a film that had to be cast just right and there are actors you can put in a throwback film and those you can't. If you could see Bruce Willis or Jessica Biel in a film like this, well, you give them far more credit than I do (not to say their bad actors; it's just I don't see the inherent qualities this film requires).
Renée Zellweger and David Hyde Pierce are a modern-day Day and Randall. In fact, if someone was ever to make a biopic of Tony Randall, I don't think anyone but Pierce could play the role. He just inhabits that insecure, uptight persona so well. Then there's Ewan McGregor pulling double-duty as not only the lothario journalist Catcher Block, but the alter-ego designed to woo author Barbara Novak (Zellweger), astronaut Major Zip Martin. Both characters are so lovable that Catcher never comes off as sleazy and Zip never seems corny (although he is charmingly cornball).
It all comes together under Reed's direction. Not only does he know how to perfectly emulate the look and feel of the Day/Hudson films, but the expert comic timing makes the film work on its own rather than scrape by on its hook. Reed previously directed another underrated flick, 2000's Bring It On, a film you don't want to admit you like because it's about cheerleaders and stars Kirsten Dunst, but you know in your heart that it's surprisingly good. Unfortunately, his last film, The Break-Up was a complete misfire and displayed none of his wit and charm. We'll see if he can regain his footing this year with Yes Man.
Although not an expensive film, Down with Love only grossed $20 million in theatres. It opened against the second weekend of some film called X2. But it's on DVD now and if you want to put a solid romantic comedy on your shelf, Down with Love will fill that space nicely.
Over / Under: UNDERRATED!
Next Week: The Boondock Saints