Down With Love

May 21, 2003 at 12:00 am

If Down With Love weren’t so focused on being cheek-pinchingly cute for all of its 100-odd minutes, it might have actually accomplished something. The potential is there, no doubt: Movies that trade on their homage to Hollywood’s past are always rife with the possibility of satire in the hallowed name of subversion. But Down With Love never comes close to being anything more than a bit of bobbysoxed nonsense, and never aspires to do anything other than make money off the names Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.

Zellweger plays Barbara Novak, a New England author who goes to New York to promote her book about the self-actualization of women in everything from the workplace to the bedroom. This isn’t an academic reading of ’60s women’s lib, but rather a handbook Novak has written to help the girls of the world take control of their lives. It’s all wrapped up in the simple mantra of “down with love,” which basically means “be a man,” i.e. put all those silly girl emotions aside and live life for yourself, which under no circumstances should include any relationship with the opposite sex beyond the physical.

Barbara’s editor sets up an interview with the scalawag star of the magazine industry, Catcher Block (sadly, there’s never any explanation for this doozy of a name), but it seems Mr. Block is too busy engaging in morning, noon and nighttime quickies with half the world’s stewardesses to ever actually show up to chat in person. Offended by his constant, phoned-in apologies, Barbara swears she’ll never meet with him. On the other side of the city, Catcher learns what her how-to book is all about and decides that the only story he’s interested in writing is the one in which he exposes everything she has written as lies by forcing her to fall in love with his irresistible (at least to any woman who spends most of her time at 30,000 feet) self.

Down With Love is meant to evoke the lightweight sex comedies of Rock Hudson and Doris Day, right down to the presence of both Tony Randall and a sidekicks-falling-in-love subplot between David Hyde Pierce and Sarah Paulson, who play Catcher and Barbara’s respective editors. A smarter movie would have gone beyond simple evocation and into deeper territory. Far From Heaven did this just last year with its crisp deconstruction of Douglas Sirk’s three-hanky melodramas. But Down With Love isn’t concerned with such highfalutin folly as making the brain do actual work. This one is all about comedy of error, sex-crazed banter, entertainment and satisfaction.

Don’t think too hard, not any harder than Catcher and Barbara, anyway, and Down With Love will probably seem just right.

Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].