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DOWN WITH LOVE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall
Director: Peyton Reed
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: October 7, 2003

“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

“Neither have I.”

“But you’re not even looking through the telescope.”

“I know.”

Film ***1/2 (on the nostalgic scale)

If Down With Love comes across to you as yet another run of the mill entry in the tiresome romantic comedy genre, be forewarned, it is a rise above the standard fare if there ever was one. The movie has winning comedy, elegant romance, but what’s most special about this enterprise is that it is more or less a throwback to the days of the timeless, widescreen romantic comedies that were widely popular in the late 50s and early 60s.

The entire look and feel of this movie is reminiscent of the films that starred Rock Hudson and Doris Day, specifically Pillow Talk. Films like these were populated then by 20th Century Fox, who helped to usher in the look of CinemaScope. The Fox logo that opens the film is even presented in that timely fashion, followed by that classic logo, “20th Century Fox Presents A CinemaScope Presentation.” I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see such a proud act of remembrance in popular cinema.

Once more, Down With Love happens to have a great sense of humor about itself, acknowledging its own tongue in cheek style and never once attempting to take it self completely seriously. It’s a great feeling to see a movie like this that knows it’s a throwback to classic earlier films and doesn’t pretend to be anything else. Every ounce of the CinemaScope look is presented here, complete with the animated credit sequence, numerous split-screen shots, and every use of the most illuminating colors to ever fill up a screen.

The charisma of Doris Day and Rock Hudson is kept alive by the equally charming chemistry of Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, whose performances spark in a witty battle of the sexes. Zellweger is Barbara Novak, a feminist author from New England who comes to New York City to promote her latest book, titled “Down With Love”. Her book basically consists of arguing for woman to embrace their sexual nature and beat men at their own dominant game. Her advice to woman is to engage in sex the way all cheating men do, and eat plenty of chocolate on the side.

Enter Catcher Block (McGregor), a self-loving, womanizing man about town, who also happens to be the top writer at a New York magazine. Once he gains knowledge of Barbara, and the attention she’s receiving on behalf of her book, Catcher immediately takes her for a fraud. He initiates a bet with his boss (David Hyde Pierce) that he can seduce Barbara, just like any old fashion woman he’s seduced, and then write up a revealing article in his magazine. The bet is to prove that Barbara is really in favor of love, and not claiming the sex-revolutionizing feminist she’s claiming to be.

Soon afterward, Catcher dons a slick southern accent, dubbing himself as Major Zip Martin. He orchestrates an accidental encounter with Barbara, who is then stunned to discover that the mysterious Zip hasn’t even heard of her nor her book, which happens to be dominating book sales. They are soon dining out on the town, and Catcher’s plan is engaging at full speed. Then, unexpectedly, she falls for him, and he falls for her, but a surprise or two waits around the corner.

Director Peyton Reed, who directed the high-energy cheerleader comedy Bring It On, has made a much outstanding follow up piece. Reed has fondly whipped up one remarkable nostalgic picture. It more or less plays along the same levels as Far From Heaven, though it should be noted that unlike that triumphant masterpiece from last year, this is a film strictly having fun with its retro style ways of atmosphere and storytelling, and never daring to take itself quite too seriously.

As for the two leads, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Zellweger and McGregor are as winning as ever in their witty roles. Zellweger is beautiful as always and makes her character as smart and edgy as can be, while McGregor proves that no other actor is better suited to play a stylish, slick-as-can-be ladies man. McGregor suggests that he been a star of the 60s, he could pull off the same roles as Rock Hudson, as could Zellweger in the roles of Doris Day. The two strike unbeatable chemistry right from scene one. David Hyde Pierce manages to have some funny moments of his own, while screen vet Tony Randall pops up as the head of the publisher of Barbara’s book.

Down With Love has two qualities going for it, as it will appeal to fans of contemporary romantic comedies, as well as those seeking a one of a kind throwback to the look and feel of 60s widescreen cinema. Thanks to the glorious feel and the sparkle or Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, it’s a movie that will truly leave a smile on your face.

Video ****

Fox does it again, as they are on the verge of a truly remarkable year. Here we have another consideration for the top prize of best video presentation at the next DMC Awards. Once you realize that the CinemaScope process was reutilized for this film, and the studio that made it happens to be Fox, you knew the end result would be a pure sight for the senses. I can’t say enough about this glorious presentation, which is delivered in an ultra-sharp and crisp fashion, with some astounding color usage to back up the movie’s unique tone of style and atmosphere. A full screen version will be available as well, but you owe it to yourself to see this movie in the appropriate format, which is that of widescreen.

Audio ***1/2

The movie’s wonderful nostalgic touch is also felt in the audio department, as the 5.1 track provided does a sparkling good job of making the absolute most out of a romantic comedy. The music of composer Mark Shaiman, in addition to classic music bits from the likes of Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland, highlight this superb sounding presentation. Dialogue is delivered strong as always, and diverse range of sound is felt for most of the presentation. High marks, all the way!

Features ****

Down with extras, indeed! Fox loads up the goods once again with an outstanding array of features. To begin with, there is a commentary with director Peyton Reed. In addition, there are deleted scenes with optional commentary, an HBO Making Of special, 8 production vignettes, a gag reel, a soundtrack promotion, as well as a special music video of the song “Here’s to Love” by none other than Ms. Zellweger and Mr. McGregor, themselves.

Summary:

Down With Love is quite simply a wonderful concept film, which thoughtfully revives the look and feel of the romantic comedies of yesteryear, in all its widescreen glory. If you’ll pardon the expression, it’s a movie to easily fall in love with.