'Down With Love' is a bit of frothy fun

Her already squinty eyes disappearing beneath a set of inch-thick false eyelashes, RenŽe Zellweger gamely tries to fill the high heels of Doris Day in 'Down With Love' Ñ but if she doesn't quite fit the bill, it's the only off note in Peyton Reed's lush, loud and fast-paced comedy.

In this cotton candy-colored homage to those deliciously dishy '60s romantic fantasies starring the likes of Day and Rock Hudson (and occasionally James Garner and Cary Grant), Zellweger plays 'modern girl' Barbara Novak, author of a pre-feminist tome called 'Down With Love.' When she comes to New York to pitch her equality-in-the-bedroom manifesto, Barbara's promised by her tough career-gal editor, Vikki (Sarah Paulson), that she'll have the cover of the city's top men's magazine, Know.

But the hotshot writer assigned to the story, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), keeps flaking on the interview because of his near-constant assignations with a steady stream of amazonian flight attendants. Convinced that Barbara must be a frumpy man-hater, he'd rather not meet her anyway Ñ until her book hits the best-seller list and women everywhere start saying, 'Down with love.'

Spurred on by his tightly wound editor-best friend (David Hyde Pierce), Catcher vows to bring Barbara down by making her fall in love with him so he can write a tell-all story exposing her as a fraud.

To reveal more of the hilarious false identities, sexual innuendoes, campy sendups and ridiculous plot contrivances would spoil the fun. The script, by TV veterans Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, honors the soufflŽ-light genre that gave us 'Pillow Talk,' 'Lover Come Back' and 'Sex and the Single Girl' with just the slightest nod to modern sexual mores. And Reed, who previously directed the smarter-than-it-looked cheerleader comedy 'Bring It On,' re-creates the sets, costumes and glaringly bright Technicolor nonreality of those films with the same painstaking attention to detail that Todd Haynes brought to his Douglas Sirk homage, 'Far From Heaven.'

Gliding through it all with masculine glee is McGregor. As Catcher Block, the actor doesn't waltz through his role so much as slide greasily. He's a cad of the highest degree, a 'woman's man, man's man and man about town' who's so adorably charismatic that you find yourself rooting for his deception to work. In his razor-sharp houndstooth-check jackets and hipster sunglasses, McGregor doesn't recall beefcakey Hudson so much as the kinetic young Tony Curtis, who could smile into the camera and cause women to melt into gooey heaps.

Zellweger is somewhat less effective as 'the girl,' relying far too heavily on her patented squinchy pucker to pull off the bombshell quality the role requires. But she leaps unembarrassedly into the screenplay's goofier moments, and her monologue near the end of the film Ñ where she recounts every single plot point in such excruciating detail that the sheer length of the take becomes the joke Ñ is so funny that you may miss half of what she says because you'll be laughing so hard.

And then there's the amazing Pierce, filling the required Tony Randall-Gig Young role as neurotic second banana. Having honed his talent for high-strung, androgynous fussiness on TV's 'Frasier,' Pierce makes the role utterly his own while nailing every important nuance of his predecessor's performances. Those unfamiliar with the Day-Hudson oeuvre will find him very funny; those who get Pierce's references will have stitches in their sides from his brilliant performance.

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