Review: Down With Love

by Jake Sproul

Rating: (out of )

With a new romantic comedy hitting the box office what seems every weekend, it might be a common misunderstanding that romantic comedies have always been popular. Yet its only been in the last 15 years that romantic comedies and even romances in general have started to become financially successful. Before Billy Crystal’s Harry and Meg Ryan’s Sally met, the last two-some to make a splash in the genre were Rock Hudson and Doris Day in the 50’s and 60’s. Director Peyton Reed’s goal with Down With Love is apparently to tip his hat to the previous generation of romantic comedies. Instead of a tribute though, Down With Love is an overly sarcastic and unfunny insult to the rom-coms of yore.

Its 1962, and Barbara Novak has just arrived in the Big Apple. Having written a book called Down With Love (a guide to teach woman to have relationships like men, aka, have sex whenever you want, and don’t apply to emotional strings to it that woman traditionally have) from her home in Maine, the beautiful Barbara is now in New York for the final stages of the publishing process. Catcher Block is the ultimate ladies man, having slept with three million of that NYC population. Catch is idolized by men, and fancied by women. He works as a journalist for the number one men’s magazine, Know, and is famous for his “exposes.” Even though Catch represents the type of man Down With Love preaches against, Barbara and her agent Vicki know how valuable an article written by him is terms of visibility. At the beckoning of Catch’s editor Peter (who has a crush of Vicki), Catcher agrees to do an interview with Barbara. After Catch stands Barbara up three times in two days, Barbara decides to get him back.

Novak’s book soon becomes an international phenomenon, and on an Ed Sullivan Show appearance, she puts down Block as the type of man every woman should avoid. Catcher’s plan for revenge upon her revenge is to prove to everyone that Barbara isn’t a “Down With Love-girl,” and wants love in spite of what she advocates. To do this, Catcher Block takes on the alias of Zip Martin, and begins to seduce Barbara. As the romance between Zip and Barbara begins to heat up, Barbara is surprised to find herself falling in love with Zip. Unfortunately for Catcher, as he gets painfully close to the results he needs for the “biggest expose of the century,” he begins to fall for Barbara.

For a romantic comedy to work on any level, the leads of the movie must above all, be likable. Barbara Novak and Catcher Block are anything but likable. Barbara is a man-hating woman who is just after sex, and Catch is even worse with his deception and cad-like attitude. There is nothing to like about these characters, and their overly-flamboyant personalities makes in impossible to identify with either character, consequently, both appear as cartoons. Even the usually reliable David Hyde Pierce can’t make heads or tails of what he is supposed to be doing with the character of Peter, who like the leads, is just another shell. In addition to the crudely drawn characters, the plot of the movie is such a standard for sitcoms, that 30 minutes through you are searching for the closing credits. This same plot has been seen so many times, that setting the movie in a pastel version of the 1960’s isn’t cute nor funny. In an attempt for originality, Down With Love features a twist ending that no one could have seen coming. But after 90 minutes of torture, instead of knocking my socks off, it left me saying “who cares?”

Not only scripted as a cartoon, Down With Love is also made to look like a cartoon. As most know by know, the film takes place in the 1960’s New York. What many may not know is that the film was made to look like it was made in the 1960’s as well. As novel as the idea may seem on paper, director Peyton Reed has over-done it with the not-so-subtle touches. I am sorry, but 1960 or 1460, the sky was never periwinkle! This ostentatious tone is carried throughout the look of the film, even to the costume department where the costume designer has made those actual bold outfit statements of the 1960’s look tame by comparison.

As we have learned from numerous failed attempts at star crossovers, movies and television are two very different mediums. What may seem like a great idea for TV, might alter into cinematic poison. Everything from the dialogue, the look, the plot and the acting of Down With Love is primed for the tube, but in the makers’ attempts to stretch what should have been 30 tedious minutes into 90 tedious minutes, well, let’s just say they “pulled a Matthew Perry.”

© 2003 Jacob Sproul

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