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Over / Under: Down with Love

by
April 26, 2008

Down with Love

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!

Down with Love

Next Week: The Boondock Saints

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  • Jon
    This feature gets even more ridiculous. Down With Love is an atrocious film. And this from the guy who called American Beauty "Overrated"? Are you purposely giving these opinions to cause friction? You're the first person I've ever heard of who rates Down With Love better than American Beauty. I appreciate that you haven't specifically stated that, but to claim that Down With Love is underrated should really be accompanied with your letter of resignation from the world of film criticism.
  • bltzie
    I agree with you 100% Jon. Matt Goldberg is giving the overrated tag to every movie that ever meant something, besides not being a piece of shit. Anyways, I remember my aunt gave us dvds as christmas presents one year, I got LOTR: the two towers. My sister got this horrible chick flick (and she's all about chick flicks) When she told me she didn't enjoy "Down With Love" at all, I told to myself "oh boy I have to see this"... This was some years back, so I don't remember a lot of things of the movie and this is because it sucked BIG TIME. I do remember however that I do not agree with ANY of Mr. Goldberg's comments about this movie, specially about the casting, and I quote : Both characters are so lovable that Catcher never comes off as sleazy and Zip never seems corny <<< I mean come on, I do remember Catcher being portrayed as gay and Zip as gayer. Renée Zellweger was just irritating throughout the whole movie. If Bruce Willis and Jessica Biel would have done this at least Catcher Block would've been a man and Barbara Novak pure eye candy.
  • Movie Lover
    Okay, I think commenter 1 and commenter 2 never had the love for the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies that I did. I adore those movies. Every sexist, 50s/60s kitch bit of them! I will rewatch "Pillow Talk" until the end of my days. That was a chick flick without any swearing or real sleaziness. Sure it was corny. Sure it was unbelievable. But it was pure fantasy romance. And "Down With Love" was hilarious for someone like me. They got all the goofiness just right. The crazy plots. The wooing of the girl with deception. The ambiguously gay assistant. But they managed to update it some and do some racier dialogue/double entendres that never would have passed the censors in Doris's day (sorry, had to make the pun!). I would agree that Zellweger and McGregor were wonderfully cast, as was David Hyde-Pierce. I couldn't imagine any other actors doing as well in these roles. The only problem this movie had was the lack of an audience. It was so genre-specific, so spot-on for these old films, you'd have to be someone like me...a repetitive viewer...to really enjoy the movie.
  • Nettle
    I agree with Movie Lover. The audience for these kind of movies is small and most people are already biased. But the movie was witty and cute. It showcases the '60s feminist movement perfectly and was hilarious. And about the gay thing, it was a part of the plot, moron. There was confusion about whose place was whose and Vicky thought Peter and Catch were gay, but it was resolved in the end.
  • I agree this is underrated. I went in on a free pass expecting to hate it but I loved it so much I bought the dvd. You really do have to appreciate the 60s movies of this ilk to get this film, I think. To me, this is indeed a great homage to the Day/Hudson movies and I absolutely adored the music.
  • avoidz
    Wow. So Matt Goldberg is the person who actually liked Down with Love... I'd heard rumors someone liked this movie; I thought it was all lies, until now.
  • Those of you comparing Goldberg's review of American Beauty versus Down With Love are comparing apples to oranges. The question is not whether one film is better than the other. He's asking if the individual film is under or overrated. I didn't agree with his opinion of American Beauty, but he's absolutely right about Down With Love. It was grossly underrated and Ewan McGreggor delivers a fine performance.
  • twispious
    American Beauty was pretentious and was too busy fondling itself to come off genuinely charming,whereas Down with Love was a cute,benign and forgettable film that I enjoyed while it lasted.
  • I can't help but agree that Down With Love was underrated. When I initially saw it, as a lover of the Day/Hudson films, I hated it. It had its moments, but fell flat. I think it's because I went into it with expectations. Last year, when my new boyfriend told me that he loved it, he may or may not have gotten offended when I arched an eyebrow at him. But I watched it again, and I'll admit that though I normally dislike Renee Zellweger, I appreciated the fun sugariness of the film upon second-viewing. It's cute, and good for what it is - better than many romantic comedies out there. Also, am utterly confused by comparing this opinion to the one on American Beauty. Separate films. Separate articles. (And I love this column.)

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