Down with Love


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"Down with Love...lost  the charm of what they're paying tribute to.  It's just 'evocative', not to be confused with 'provocative', or 'interesting'."

Down with Love
The Masked Reviewer

Remember those kitschy, campy bedroom comedies of the 50's and 60's?  Well, the Masked Reviewer doesn't. Fortunately, the handicaps of youth are offset by the miracles of DVD and VHS, and the Masked Reviewer has been able to see several of them.  For today's audiences, these types of films (most notably Pillow Talk with Rock Hudson and Doris Day) seem quaint and mildly entertaining.  Today, though, most of the entertainment comes from watching a macho womanizer (played by a closeted gay man) hitting on a small town prudish girl (played by a woman who couldn't get enough sex and heroin).  

Down with Love attempts to recreate the feel of these comedies.  While it's easy to see why some people might enjoy this style of film, the fact is that these films always relied on the charm of their stars.  All films of the 60's bedroom comedy have several things in common.  Sexual innuendo.  Elements of farce.  And, invariably, one or more main characters is living some elaborate lie that is discovered, resulting in a sad moment, but all is either forgiven or works out for the best in the end.  The jokes in these comedies aren't the kind you try to re-tell; there's a lot of slapstick and big double-takes and reaction shots.  The enjoyment comes from seeing the charm of the actors.

Not in Down with Love, though.  Oh, where to start?  While the actors all have their own charms (Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, and Tony Randall), they don't carry the film.  They drag it along, by the hair.  Through the mud.

The Masked Reviewer doesn't understand the widespread appeal of Zellweger.  She's known as a Hollywood hottie, but why?  She looks like a woman who believes she's much better looking than she is.  Squinting and contorting her mouth to the side doesn't look cute.  She looks like she just tasted something unpleasant.  She's reminiscent of a chipmunk with cheeks full of lemons. 

But even if you love Zellwegger, there's more not to like.  In the 60's (and late 50's), these films used subtle sexual innuendo.  You knew what they were trying to say, even though it was subtle.  The filmmakers decided that this tribute to period films should be contemporized with really obvious innuendo.  Double-entrendre is gone.  There's a lot of single-entendre.  It seems like the writers came up with a list of "naughty" sounding words and created situations around them.  Terms like "waylaid", "titular", and "something sprung up" aren't funny or shocking.  They also tried to put a spin on the split screen effect used in films like Pillow Talk, to simulate sex.  It's a fine idea, but they didn't do a particularly good job, then they overdid it.

The pacing of the film isn't good.  It has the feel of a bad Fox sitcom.  Everything is played very broadly, with big beats and the intended funny moments are accentuated by orchestrations in the soundtrack.  It's awkward and hard to watch.  If the cast were clearly having fun, it might have played better, but they weren't and it didn't.  It's hard not to get the feeling, though, that all the actors were a bit unsure of whether the concept would work, so they were a bit timid at times, and tried too hard other times.

What might be classified as "the big joke" in the film is an agonizingly long solo exposition toward the end of the film.  It's supposed to be funny because it's preposterous, and long, and the camera doesn't cut away or move for several minutes.  However, what was supposed to be hilariously funny was just a lame wrap-up that made no sense.  

Down with Love is not an homage to anything because they lost  the charm of what they're paying tribute to.  It's not a spoof because they don't go far enough with making fun of the genre.  It's just "evocative", not to be confused with "provocative", or "interesting". 

Certainly there will be some people who like this film.  Undoubtedly there will even be a few who love it.  For these people, it will be a bit of nostalgia, or "wannabe nostalgia".  The very concept of doing this kind of film will appeal to some people so much that  they won't care about any shortcomings.  The Masked Reviewer thought the film was great in concept, but in execution, it just falls flat.  If you go to the film expecting absolutely'll be happy, because that's what you get.  Even Tony Randall can't save this film. 

The one upside to the film, which will be enough for some people to convince themselves that it's a good movie, is the design.  The recreation of New York City in 1963 is fun to look at.  The highlight for the Masked Reviewer was the fact that, when riding in cabs in the film, the stock footage used for the rear projection (the scenery passing by) was beautifully restored.  They even had a shot of the Met-Life building, digitally reverted to the Pan Am building.  The clothes, the apartments, the offices...they're rich and colorful and definitely set the mood.  Unfortunately, the writing and acting re-set the mood to "tired of watching a crappy movie". 

Some may think the Masked Reviewer is trite for bringing this up, but...well...the film is chock full of anachronisms.  Sadly, many people form opinions of the real world based on what they see in movies, and while no one should do that, it would be nice if a screenwriter would do some research once in a while.  Houdini didn't die in the water torture escape.  If you shoot a hole in an airplane bulkhead, no one will be sucked out through the hole.  King Kong didn't die by falling off the Empire State Building.  He slipped in the shower.  With that in mind, here's some things that are out of place for 1963:

bulletA marquee is shown for "Cabaret" (which first opened in 1966).
bulletSomeone tries to find a man who's been in orbit for two weeks, but in 1963, the longest time anyone had spent in orbit was 24 hours (Mercury 9).  Even by 1965, the longest flight was only 8 days.
bulletIn the swinging bachelor pad, there's a piece of equipment which wasn't invented until 1972, and...oh...never mind.

McGregor also has some strange accent action in this movie.  In the beginning of the film you can't tell what he's trying to sound like...American?  English?  Then, to make matters more confusing, he adopts a Southern accent as a plot device.  At one point someone notices that his fake Southern accent disappeared on one word...only to be replaced by his other fake accent. 

There was a musically jarring scene cutting between two different versions of "Fly Me to the Moon."  Both versions are nice, but they didn't work well together.   Why does the Masked Reviewer mention this?  These relatively small faults served as a welcome sanctuary from the horrible stinkiness of the rest of the movie.

The really disturbing fact is that the director, Peyton Reed, is slated to direct The Fantastic Four in 2005.  Yikes.  His track record thus far (which includes Down with Love, Bring It On, and several episodic TV versions of movies) doesn't give us much hope.

Some people will like Down with Love.  Some people liked Far from Heaven, despite being hokey and uninspired.  Why'd they like it?  It reminded them of something and nostalgia scores big with some people.  Others give more credit to a tribute film than it deserves.  If you like 60's bedroom comedies, you might like that someone made a film honoring them.  But if you take the movie for what it is, it's hard to find anything tolerable, much less good about it.  Go watch How to Save a Marriage (and Ruin Your Life) with Dean Martin instead.  Is it good?  Not really.  But it's the real thing, at least.

The opening title credits were nice.


Expectation from the Title: The true story of a man who gives up his big city lifestyle to travel to Alaska and open a factory that produces feather stuffing for pillows and winter jackets, and then he donates the product to charity.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  Ewan McGregor looks like the kind of nice young fellow who would help an elderly lady across the street.

The Pros: The opening credits and the design of the film.

The Cons: Everything else.  Pooey!  Jedi mind tricks aren't enough to make someone think this is watchable. 


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