This post is part of ‘The Essential 60s Blogathon‘ hosted by Nuwan of the blog I follow No Nonsense with Nuwan Sen, which I’m delighted to take part in. I love both movies in general and those set in that decade. The music too. Fashion, art, interior decor. Fascinating stuff.
First I had to decide on the movie, and I wasn’t sure which I had seen that qualified. I looked through several Wiki pages related to films set in the 60s. I spotted Little Shop of Horrors (1986) in one list. That’s one of my favourite musical films, which I had actually already written about a bit here. I finally decided on the romantic comedy Down With Love. Seeing the title put a smile on my face as I remembered how much fun it was.
A fun, fluffy chick flick that had me tittering merrily because it’s such entertaining silly fun. Set in New York City in 1962, and starring Renée Zellweger as writer Barbara Novak and Ewan McGregor as journalist Catcher Block, this movie pays homage to Hollywood romantic comedies of the early 1960s, like the movies of Rock Hudson and Doris Day such as the much-loved Pillow Talk.
Barbara Novak arrives in New York City to promote her book ‘Down With Love’ at a publishing house, a self-help that persuades women that they don’t need men and that they should be as free as men are to enjoy sex without commitments. The male executives at the publishing house refuse to publish her work. Barbara’s editor Vicki Hiller (played by Sarah Paulson, more recently seen in the TV series American Horror Story) decides Barbara could ask Catcher Block, a journalist and notorious playboy, to help her promote the book. Catcher, however, is too busy with his conquests and keeps postponing their meeting, infuriating Barbara.
Barbara and Vicki manage to get the book published without his help (but with Judy Garland‘s! More on that later.), and it becomes a worldwide bestseller. Catcher is now intrigued by Barbara and wants to meet her, but now it is she who blows him off. When Barbara proceeds to embarrass him on television by naming him as an example of ‘the worst kind of man‘ while discussing a chapter from her book, Catcher vows revenge. He intends to prove that Barbara doesn’t really believe what she preaches in her book, by making her fall for him. Taking advantage of the fact that they have not met and she does not know what he looks like, Catcher poses as a simple and sweet gentleman to woo her.
(Note on video above: for this post I cut it down to the 7:06 mark as the rest contain *spoilers* to the movie)
I absolutely love the 60s aesthetics, especially the interior design but also the entire look and feel of the style. The production sets of the apartments and offices are delightful, especially the nifty James Bond-esque elements of Catcher Block’s apartment so suited to his playboy character. The magnificent visual spectacle is one of the aspects of this movie that entertain me most.
Another main draw is the performances by all four actors; the two leads and two main supporting actors, the abovementioned Sarah Paulson as well as David Hyde Pierce, whose best-known work I think is as Dr. Niles Crane from the TV series Frasier which I really enjoyed. Here he plays a similar executive-type role, as Catcher Block’s boss and best friend Peter McMannus. It was fun watching these actors take on the script and comic acting style of romantic comedies from the 60s, in keeping with the spirit of the genre from the era.
Ewan McGregor is an absolute joy to watch here, as he usually is in any movie. An incredibly talented actor who has taken on so many varied roles, his Catcher Block is all cheeky smiles and charmingly wicked. It’s a more boyish portrayal of a ladies-man compared to the more manly quality of Rock Hudson’s roles, and a charismatic performance I enjoyed very much. He has great chemistry with Renée Zellweger too. At the end of this entertaining battle of the sexes, there is an unexpected twist, delivered in an impressively long speech in one take, in a sweetly ditzy way that I can’t imagine any actress other than Renée pulling off, all breathless and squinty eyes and all. Her adorable performance here is really under-rated.
As is the whole movie. Down With Love is not very well-known, I believe, and it did not perform very well at the box office when it was released in 2003, which to me is a great shame. It was something ‘new’ and interesting; an unconventional, smart and stylish offering in the romantic comedy genre. It still is.
Below is a video of Judy Garland singing a song called ‘Down With Love’ in 1964 for an episode of her The Judy Garland Show. A captivating performance that was cleverly scripted into the 2003 movie as a promotional event for Barbara Novak’s book which led to its global success.
- The late great Roger Ebert’s review of Down With Love (16 May 2003)