Down with Love is the second movie from the director Peyton Reed, the first being the fascinating cheerleader comedy Bring It On. Down with Love falls into the same romantic comedy category, but the two are quite different. What Women Want is more of Down with Love’s intellectual ancestor than Bring It On.
The story is pretty simple. Barbara Novak (played by Renée Zellweger) is an aspiring author from Maine who has written a book for the feminist generation to be—the story is set in 1962—and her publishers—all men except for the woman editor who accepted the proposal—are not particularly interested in seeing it become successful. They agree to publish it, but not to promote it.
Luckily for Novak, her editor is a real career gal who doesn’t want her chauvinistic colleagues to win again. She exerts herself trying to get the book promoted, primarily through a successful men’s magazine and its star columnist Catcher Block (played by Ewan McGregor). Block stands Novak up repeatedly for a cover interview in order to seduce various women that pass in and out of his life—exactly the kind of man Novak wrote the book to combat. Finally, Novak gets her book highlighted on the Ed Sullivan Show and sales take off.
Block realizes that he’s letting the story of the year—not to mention a beautiful woman—get away and he pursues. Novak, however, wants nothing to do with him and his womanizing ways. Block decides that he’ll get revenge on Novak by writing an exposé that will show the world that Novak is really just after love and marriage. So he pretends to be a down-to-earth astronaut and gradually wins her affections.
I won’t reveal the rest because it’s rather elaborate and best watched firsthand. Suffice it to say, it’s not as cliché as it’s sounded up to this point. Block’s boss and friend Peter (played by David Hyde Pierce) displays excellent comedic timing and participates in a subplot involving the Novak’s editor and his contra-Block tendencies. Tony Randall has a bit part as Novak’s publisher and he, like Bob Newhart in Legally Blonde 2, reminds me how much I miss some of the old sitcoms.
Every review in the world mentions Down with Love’s homage to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson fluff films of the 60s. I’ve never seen them so I can’t comment. The movie definitely evokes a sense of the 60s and Zellweger seems to be having a blast with her character. Director Reed has successfully recreated the proper mood and the subtle sexual undertone present in 60s movies. The set design and costumery are excellent; I wish our era was as elegant and demure as that one was.
Down with Love doesn’t have any weighty issues to deal with. It could have examined the feminist revolution more closely, but I think that that ship has sailed and no one questions seriously the rightness of women having a role in the economy, society, and politics anymore. The movie thus revels in its lightness—probably capturing well the spirit of the Day-Hudson flicks that I’ve never seen and would probably be an important source of context at this point. I enjoyed myself, but I doubt that I would buy the movie when it comes out on DVD. It’s definitely worth renting or seeing in a discount theater, though.
[NOTE: I saw Down with Love at one of those discount movie theaters, one that I’ve been going to for many years. It was purchased a few years back by some sort of chain called Silver Cinemas and it has steadily deteriorated ever since. It was once a happening place with cheap movies and cheap popcorn, full of neon and flash. It was schlocky but consciously so. Now, they don’t even staff the box office and they ran out of tickets. The popcorn and other concessions have skyrocketed to normal movie theater prices and the discount is only to $2.50. The toilets hardly flush, the hand dryer hardly works, and the neon is largely off. In short, it’s decrepit and it’s taken the entire plaza that buzzed with it along for the ride. I relate this because it affects the movie experience and really detracted from my enjoyment of the movie.]