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Down with Love Review

By Shawn McKenzie 05/16/2003

I’ve discovered with the movie Down with Love that you don’t need to like the original source material to enjoy the spoof.  Like the Brady Bunch movies, I think I liked this movie more because I wasn’t crazy about the initial movies that it was poking fun at, which in this case are the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies of the early sixties.


The place:  New York City.  The time:  now…1962!  Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger) is a woman with an interesting philosophy.  She thinks if women forget about trying to fall in love with a man and concentrate on their careers, they will be equal to men.  This doesn’t mean that they should cut sex out of their lives; they should just treat sex like men do, without any emotional feelings.  Her backup suggestion to gain the pleasure that sex gives a woman is to eat chocolate.  She has written all of her philosophies and female equality techniques into a book called Down with Love.  She has come down from Maine to New York to promote her book with her editor and friend, Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson.)  Unfortunately, they have a couple of hurdles.  First, the head boss, Theodore Banner (Tony Randall), owner of Banner Publishing, doesn’t share her same philosophy, despite the fact that his company is publishing the book.  This opinion is shared by his all male staff, consisting of E.G. (John Aylward), J.R. (Michael Ensign), C.W. (Basil Hoffman), C.B. (Warren Munson), R.J. (Timothy Omundson), and J.B. (Matt Ross.)  That being the case, they don’t try very hard to stock the bookshelves or promote the book.  Their second hurdle is that Vikki’s plan to get a cover story about the book in a men’s magazine called Know seems to be not panning out.  The reason is that the writer of the story, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), keeps blowing Barbara off.  Catcher is the star reporter of Know magazine, but he is also a swinging playboy that has a rotation of regular flings, including stewardesses Gwendolyn (Jeri Ryan), Elkie (Melissa George), and Yvette (Ivana Milicevic.)  Catcher was supposed to do the story as a favor to his boss, Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce), because Peter has a crush on Vikki.  After being stood up one too many times, Barbara and Vikki look for alternate ways to promote the book.  Vikki calls in a favor on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and Ed (Will Jordan) mentions the book and has Judy Garland (Vivien Latham lip-synching) sing a song on the show with the book’s title.  Not long after it’s a bestseller, and suddenly women everywhere want to be a Down with Love girl.  It even inspires Vikki’s secretary, Gladys (Rachel Dratch), to start eating a lot of chocolate.  Now that women are empowering themselves, Catcher, the “woman’s man, man’s man, man-about-town” is no longer successful with the women.  He decides finally to go ahead with his cover story, but instead he wants to debunk Barbara’s philosophies.  He believes that all women want is love and marriage, and now wants to prove Barbara is a fraud.  Since he’s already stood her up several times, he elects to take on the personality of Zip Martin, a genial NASA astronaut is a nice, old-fashioned guy who has never heard of Barbara or her book.  While her book has made her successful and the inspiration of women everywhere, it has also made her dating life difficult.  She is instantly attracted to Zip, since he seems to be the only one who hasn’t heard of her.  Peter goes along with the trick, especially if it means he’ll get a shot with Vikki.  Catcher’s goal is make Barbara fall in love with him, thus proving that women can’t separate love and sex.  Barbara wants to stick to her philosophies, but she finds herself falling for Zip, and it makes her wonder if she truly is a Down with Love girl.  Catcher is putting on this act to write a story, so he is trying to be careful that he doesn’t fall for her, but it is something he finds increasingly hard to do.


Part of the fun of this movie was that it could have been another Day/Hudson movie.  The setting was the same, the time period was the same, and it even employed cheesy fake backgrounds, lots of pastel colors, and some telephone conversation scenes shown in split screen.  The Brady Bunch movies transplanted the goofy family from the seventies to the nineties, but this movie spoofed the Day/Hudson movies by using the original formula and showing how goofy they were initially.  They did add some elements that couldn’t be shown originally.  They are what I always call “Three’s Company” elements, named after the first show I can remember using these elements.  It is essentially when two people are having a conversation that sounds dirty out of context, but is innocent in reality.  This movie takes it one step further and has its two lead characters position themselves on the phone to where it looks like they are committing sexual acts toward each other in the telephone split screen scenes (which, actually, may have already been done in some form in an Austin Powers movie…I can’t remember.)

Down with Love is a fun movie to check out, but, like A Mighty Wind before it, younger audiences might not totally understand the joke.  The appeal of its stars and the risqué dialogue might be good enough for them though.  The director, Peyton Reed, found a good follow-up to his hilarious first feature, Bring It On.  I hated those Day/Hudson movies myself, so it makes this movie that much more entertaining to watch.


Get the "book" that was written by "Barbara Novak":

Get the soundtrack featuring a swinging score by Marc Shaiman, plus classics by Frank Sinatra, Astrud Gilberto, an original tune sung by the stars of the movie, and more:

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