In recent years it seems that making movies in an old-fashioned filmmaking style has become, well, the new fashion. Frank Darabont recreated the filmmaking style of Frank Capra with The Majestic; Todd Haynes did the same for the 1950s melodrama with Far From Heaven; and Steven Spielberg paid homage to the 1960s films with Catch Me if You Can. Now director Peyton Reed brings back the style of those bright, innuendo-filled 60s romantic comedies with the delightful Down With Love, featuring Renée Zellweger in the role usually occupied by Doris Day and Ewan McGregor filling in for Rock Hudson. Even Tony Randall makes an appearance.
Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, who arrives in New York City at the film’s opening with her new book entitled “Down With Love.” Attempting to get some publicity for the book’s opening, Novak’s publisher (Sarah Paulson) gets her a cover story in Know Magazine (“The Magazine for Men in the Know”) to be written by Know’s star journalist—“The ladies’ man, man’s man, man about town”—Catcher Block (McGregor). Not interested, Catcher brushes Novak off, but when her book—teaching women how to forget about love and pursue a professional career filled with sex ala carte—becomes a big success and Catch is publicly humiliated, he decides to get even. He decides to make Novak fall in love with him (disguised as an astronaut named Zip Martin), thus enabling him to write an expose proving she is not who she says she is.
From the minute the previews end and the screen flashes “20th Century Fox presents a CINESCOPE picture” I knew I was in for an enjoyable experience. And that is exactly what this film is, enjoyable from top to bottom. Everything from the sets, the backdrops, the costumes, the rear-projection, the directing style and screenplay are done exactly how they would have been done had this film been made 40 years ago. What impressed me most was the acting style. Renée Zellweger seems to have mastered that hip-swaying walk and Ewan McGregor has just the right amount of a cocky swagger. I can’t imagine two better modern actors to reenact these roles and I can’t help but think the fact that both stars had recently finished a musical helped in some way. If you watch a little of the credits, you will even be awarded with a charming music video featuring the two.
There was plenty to absorb and enjoy in Down With Love, but there are a couple of scenes that stick out in my mind. One is the classic split screen phone conversation that could have been taken straight out of Pillow Talk, featuring plenty of innuendo. There is another scene that cuts back and forth between the two as they prepare for their big date; on the soundtrack we hear “Fly Me to the Moon”, Frank Sinatra version for him, female version for her.
One of the film’s best moments is a humorous monologue delivered brilliantly by Zellweger as she breathlessly recounts the film’s entire plot including the twists. She talks and talks and talks and when the film finally cuts to McGregor’s reaction, it is priceless.
Down With Love is a film that will be enjoyed by most, but those with a fair knowledge and fondness of those 60s sex comedies are going to find it an even more pleasurable experience. I loved it. I give it an A-.