More noise than signal

Down With Love

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

I hate being disappointed. Everything about this film seemed to have been created purely to incur my displeasure. The smug trailer, the sly winks, the presence of the Zellweger, this seemed to be a film I’d rather eat than watch. Blow me if it didn’t turn out to be one of the most fun movies of the year. Damn.

Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) is a mans man, a ladies man, a man about town and ace reporter for Know magazine, the magazine for men in the know. He’s built a reputation out of penetrating subjects, spreading them wide open before relentlessly thrusting into its depths, always bringing his stories to a satisfying climax. His pioneering just-in-time journalism style combined with his gadabout womanising occasionally irritates his editor Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce), but his happy-go-lucky playboy stylings and assortment of cheeky grins always win him over.

Meanwhile, editor Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson) is busy trying to promote the novel from debut author Barbara Novak (Baroness Renee of Zellweger) named Down With Love, in which Novak outlines the steps to living a happy, love-free life where women can concentrate on career advancement and enjoying sex without love. Women take to the novel like fish to water and start replacing sex with chocolate, as her book commands. This perturbs men everywhere, not least Catcher who finds his dripping flow of hot and cold running woman drying up like road kill in Nevada. His only option is clearly to pose as fictional ace astronaut Zip Martin, make the architect of the Down With Love phenomenon actually fall in love with him and write the whole thing up as another smashing Catcher Bloke expose.

So begins a drawn out courting ritual with Catcher/Zip playing a demure and timid character that catches Barbara’s roving eye thanks to Catcher’s well researched dating knowledge and essentially boils down to a neat-esque role reversal comedy compared to that typically seen in a rom-com. A slight perversion of the genre, but more remarkable is the fact that this movie steals a leaf from Far From Heaven‘s book by setting itself in 60’s America and shooting in the style of 60’s cinema. It’s actually illegal to review Down With Love without mentioning that it’s a homage to the 60’s love farces frequently starring Doris Day and Rock ‘Gay as the Ace of Spades’ Hudson (amongst others, of course) so there’s that by-law satisfied. I’ve next to no experience of these movies that I can recall, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for comparisons. I typically find these movies to have no guns and even fewer cyborgs/zombies/mechano-whores/dwarves/killer robot monkeys for my tastes, so I don’t seek them out as a habit.

Down With Love almost does enough to change my opinion. For the most part it’s very funny, and above all fun. Criticising it for being cliched would be to miss the point, as it positively revels in its cliches. The supporting characters have some depth, with Peter pursuing Vikki parallel to the main course as both pairs realise that this love thing ain’t as bad as their making out. However is McGregor and the Zellweger that understandably take centre stage.

This movie does something remarkable, it removes both these actor’s names from my ‘first against the wall once the revolution comes’ list, at least for the time being. Despite being alternately irritated and bored by McGregor’s most recent tallywhacker exposing turgid clunker Young Adam, here he replaces languid introspection and middle distance staring with a brand of cheeky double entendre laden winking that manages to stay on the right side of the tricky charming / annoying line. The Zellweger is one of the few people currently making movies I have come to despise and fear, possibly because of the strange myth that she is in some way attractive. While she probably looks more human here than in many of her other works, there are times when after applying the eyeliner a little too heavily it seem her eyes have turned entirely black making her look like an alien sent by a malevolent race to conquer our world through the medium of pop culture. I fear the Zellweger.

That’s not to say that she/it can’t produce a decent performance, and she delivers the necessary stridency and bluster required for her role counterpointing McGregor nicely. They produce a chemistry that doesn’t set the screen on fire, but certainly keeps it pleasantly warm through the duration. Almost all of the humour is derived from relatively juvenile entendres combined with David Hyde Pierce’s neurotic ditherer act again reprised from his Frasier role, but it does all of it well enough to be consistently and genuinely funny. This is a remarkable shock coming from a writing team responsible for the debacle of Legally Blonde 2

I’m too young to remember the timeframe of 1962, being as I was only negative 17 at the time, but director Peyton Reed and his production designers seem to have done an authentic job of keeping inline with 60’s set design and cinematic techniques. In fact it’s these techniques that provide the few flaws in the film, with a split scene visual gag sequence that sits somewhere between ‘forced’ and ‘tortuous’ on the Carrey Scale. As in Far From Heaven he uses fake landscapes and obvious rear projections for shots in cars, but it detracts less from the effect of the movie and jars far less in Down With Love‘s case due to the nature of their subjects. Far From Heaven was a very serious film dealing with serious issues, and these techniques no matter how appropriate to the style of the piece seemed to cheapen it. In a light-hearted and breezy comedy like this it’s far less of an issue.

Down With Love is fluff, nothing more, nothing less. Hardened cynics will want to avoid this and there’s certainly none of the grim introspective interludes that have become so popular of late, but it’s not really out to appeal to the goth crowd. There’s a real sense of fun that’s difficult not to get swept up in, and if a curmudgeon like me can enjoy it I can do little other than give it a wide recommendation. It’s also refreshing to see a tale told so simply, devoid of the flashy techniques and convoluted timeframe jumping methods seem in almost every movie released recently which lets the narrative rather than the narrative technique take precedence for once.

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