An authoress advocating for women’s rights falls for an undercover journalist hoping to write an expose on her.
Down With Love Trailer, justjillo and pictures © 20th Century Fox
If I was asked if there were any current(ish) romantic comedies I enjoy it would have to be this one. Down with Love (2003) is one of the more overlooked gems of this genre which is surprising with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in the lead roles in this movie set in the early 1960s.
It’s engaging from the opening credits, which are like the opening animation of a 1960s Doris Day /Rock Hudson movie. This film is a throwback to the sixties battle of the sexes films of this time. And is a sweet reminder of these films in every way from the script to the end credits, you feel almost transported back to those times of Pillow Talk (1959) and The Thrill of It All (1963).
The story tells of Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) – a name immediately exuding pure 1960s visions of Honor Blackman and Hitchcock blondes – who visits New York in 1962 to promote her new book named Down with Love to her publishers at Banner House. Her book advocates women should not have to depend on men, don’t have to fall in love and can enjoy commitment free sex. Also more importantly women do not solely need a man to make them happy and satisfy all their needs.
The men on the publishing house board are against promoting the book. The only possible support to promote the book that Barbara’s editor, Vikki (Sarah Paulson) can get may come from a ladies man, Catcher Block (see doesn’t that sound like a role for Jon Hamm from the name alone) who writes for a magazine. However Block (Ewan McGregor) stands her up for their meetings – to “tend” to a fleet of air stewardesses – and Novak ends up fed up and annoyed with him.
She then promotes the book herself on television on a well-known TV show. Novak talks to the camera about her views on men and gives the example she finds Block the “worst kind of man”. Novak becomes a worldwide sensation and her book a best seller with women everywhere. This leaves Block angry with her as his all dates bail out on him, feeling more liberated after reading Novak’s book and watching her speech on TV.
Block declares to his boss Peter, (David Hyde Pierce) he will prove Novak deep down wants love and marriage like all other women and then expose her publicly. As they have not met he pretends to be a character called Zip and engineers an “accidental” meeting with her. The pair talk and flirt both on and off the phone and go on a series of dates and Novak falls for him…. and Block himself begins to fall for her too. However simultaneously his boss, Peter and Novak’s editor Vikki have fallen for each other to add to the confusion.
With the gentle references to the past from the opening footage of New York circa 1960s, you are constantly reminded of the Day/Hudson films of this time. Views of this time from the 1960s used beside the current day cast – such as crowd scenes – add to the authentic feel to the story. The accompanying musical score – including Judy Garland’s recording of the title song and name of Novak’s book – continue the sixties theme.
The double entendres and sexual innuendo are in a fun 1960s way with split screens and phrases a James Bond movie could have quipped in the final moments reinforcing this in a subtle and innocent manner. The end result is a great homage to these movies in a time where sex was implied with a foot on the ground by both parties but not spoken about.
Set a time when women were struggling for equality, independence and not just there to pander their husband’s needs in and out of the bedroom. The montages are shot in the style of the time and fitted in well with the movie along with little gestures and nods by the cast to these movies.
The supporting cast of Paulson and Hyde Pierce is priceless, Hyde Pierce especially seemed as frustrated and annoyed with the Block character as his character Niles is with his brother Frasier (1993-2004) in the hit TV comedy of the same title. Paulson’s character shows a good sounding board for Novak to air her frustrations with Block and men in general.
Renee Zellweger, as our modern-day, Doris Day substitute was perfect for the role appearing in turn ditsy, feminine yet at times more determined, strong-willed and assertive. These attributes were seen in her dealings with the then perceived stronger sex. Zellweger’s acting and mannerisms were in tune with the period as much as her hair, makeup and wardrobe. She was made for a role in the 1960s and you always felt she was not going to take any crap from any man especially from her leading man.
Sadly I felt, Ewan McGregor as her leading man was miscast. McGregor is no chiselled debonair Rock Hudson type, more cheeky boy next door and I can see him playing these roles more easily. The first time I saw this he was passable but I think only because as he was then the object of my affection.
Now he looked like a games show host crossed with a wee irritating Scottish chappie trying to sell windows. If they had wanted a Scot for the role, more chiselled looking 1960s type, Dougray Scott might have been a bit more interesting and believable but definitely not Gerard Butler.
Personally, I felt the film should have been put on hold for a few years then the role given to Jon Hamm, who looks much better in – and out of, in lieu of the many scenes of McGregor in just a towel – 1960s clothing much more credibly. I could see Hamm much more in the role as a 1960s caddish chauvinistic playboy. I am sure after showing a similar caddish role in Bridesmaids (2011) – and of course Mad Men (2007-15), he could have hammed up the roll with saucy or spicy relish.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Always a Bridesmaid Blogathon 2019 No 57
This post was added to Hollywood Genes’ Always A Bridesmaid Film Blogathon. Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor also star in Down with Love and Miss Potter. Others include Renee Zellweger in the Bridget Jones’ Baby trailer and Chicago reviews. Ewan McGregor stars in Moulin Rouge. David Hyde Pierce stars in Frasier. Tony Randall stars in Pillow Talk.