The real belly laugh comes with Zellweger’s accomplished monologue.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

            “Down With Love” is a very silly movie that might be just right if you’re in the mood.  What mood?  For nostalgia, perhaps, or for cheerfulness, but be prepared for long stretches that are both leaden and labored.  In poking fun at the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies, this one captures the colors, behavior, and sounds of that movie era of four decades ago, but when the jokes come, they are delivered with a poke in the ribs rather than a wink in the eye.   It’s an exercise in the obvious.

So what’s good here?  The tone is set with appropriate period frivolity by a score that alternately bubbles and soars, making you feel the characters are about to burst into song – which they often do.  And when they do, Rene Zellweger (as Barbara Novak) and Ewan McGregor (as Catcher Block) are certainly up to the task.  Both of these high wattage stars made their names early on with unaffected sincerity (Zellweger in “Jerry MaGuire,” McGregor in the terrific “Brassed Off.”)  In Down With, they are at their best in those moments, less appealing when they are playing hip. 

The costumes are eye-stoppers, from Zellweger’s pink and white suit topped by a white hat resembling an upside down summer salad bowl to the slick black and white outfit that announces her successful transformation from country hick to city slicker.  Clothes, music, gestures – all are presented in cardboard exaggeration to make the point at hand. 

The entire story is devoted to untangling the covert motives of the battling couple.  Barbara, the unexpectedly pretty woman from Maine, knocks the Manhattan publishing world on its ear with the feminist tract she has written, and Catcher Block, the city sophisticate, masquerades as the horn rimmed astronaut he thinks could win her love.  They spend their time arguing and indulging in double entendres that are only mildly funny.  The real belly laugh comes with Zellweger’s accomplished monologue.  It’s long, uninterrupted and gives a real lift toward the end, just when it’s needed. 

A subplot involves two editors who want to marry each other but keep tripping over artificial misunderstandings.  David Hyde Pierce, whose Peter is as over the top as the others, actually becomes quite likeable as Peter.  Sarah Paulson is lively as Vikki, his target.     The action between the two couples unfolds, appropriately, against vividly colored backdrops of Manhattan.

Credit Ewan McGregor with giving everything he’s got to the role of Catcher.  He tries so hard to be sincere his smile nearly cracks.  He and Rene Zellweger are in the spirit of things all the way through.  The truth of it is though, the lines aren’t up to the poses they hold as they wait for our laughter.  I tried to have fun but failed.  The people in front of me, however, never stopped laughing.  “Down With Love” is at best a distraction, at worst, a quite tiresome op-art exaggeration of Doris Day and Rock Hudson.  You decide.

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