Down with Love
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|Down with Love|
Down with Love movie poster
|Directed by||Peyton Reed|
|Produced by||Dan Jinks
|Written by||Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake|
David Hyde Pierce
|Music by||Marc Shaiman|
|Edited by||Larry Bock|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$39.5 million|
Down with Love is a 2003 romantic comedy film. It was directed by Peyton Reed, written by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, and stars Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson and David Hyde Pierce.
The story follows a woman who advocates female independence in combat with a lothario and the patriarchal, even male chauvinist society of the 1950s and early 1960s. The film is a pastiche of the sex comedies that were popular in the era in which Down with Love is set, in particular the three films that starred Doris Day and Rock Hudson: 1959's Pillow Talk, 1961's Lover Come Back and 1964's Send Me No Flowers.
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In early 1960s New York City, Barbara Novak arrives in town at Banner House to present her new work, Down with Love, a book the intent of which is to free women from love, teach them to enjoy sex without commitment, and to replace the need for a man with things such as chocolate. Following her rules would, she believes, help to give women a boost in the workplace and in the world in general.
The men who run Banner House refuse to support the book. The only way Vikki Hiller, Barbara's editor, can find to promote the book is for Barbara to meet Catcher Block – a successful writer for the magazine Know and a notorious "ladies' man, man's man, man about town" – but he avoids her repeatedly by postponing their dates until she gets fed up, insults him, and walks out.
Catcher's boss and best friend, Peter MacMannus, and Vikki take a liking to one another. However, their relationship revolves around Barbara and Catcher, and neither is brave enough to express their feelings for the other. Peter feels overshadowed by Catcher's strong personality, and Vikki wants to see emotional commitment in her lover. She even assumes Peter must be gay due to his perceived lack of interest.
Barbara starts promoting her book with Vikki's help, and things take off when they get Judy Garland to sing the song "Down with Love" as a promotion to the book on The Ed Sullivan Show. Sales skyrocket, as housewives and women around the world buy the book and rebel against their men; Catcher now wants to meet Barbara, but now it is she who rejects him.
It all comes to a boiling point when Barbara appears on a national TV show talking about a chapter from the book – "The Worst Kind of Man" – and cites Catcher Block as the perfect example. Subsequently, Catcher's date rejects him, which infuriates him. Catcher swears revenge on Barbara and to undo the damage (as he sees it) done by her book by writing the "exposé of the Century" - he will prove to the world that, deep down, all women are the same, they all want love and marriage. Including Barbara Novak.
He arranges for a casual meeting at a dry cleaner shop, taking advantage of the fact that Barbara has never met or seen him, and he poses as an astronaut, Major Zip Martin, attentive and polite. Barbara appears to be immediately infatuated with this man who seemingly has no idea who she is, in contrast to men who now avoid her, viewing her as the enemy since the publication of her book.
"Zip" takes her to the most fashionable locations in New York while maintaining considerable sexual tension between them by feigning naivete and a desire to remain chaste until he is "ready" for a physical relationship. But he starts falling for her, and it gets harder to go through with his plan.
When Barbara finds Catcher/Zip at a party he is almost caught out, and decides it is time to take everything to the next level: he tells Barbara that Catcher Block wants to interview him for an exposé on the NASA space program and asks her to accompany him. It is his own apartment, and he sets everything up to record her saying she loves him. But then it is she who reveals the truth: she knew he was really Catcher from the beginning, but she also lied as she is not Barbara Novak but Nancy Brown, once one of Catcher's many secretaries, who fell in love with him while working at Know, but who turned him down when he asked her out because she did not want to be just another one in his long list of romances.
She tells him she did this to be different from all the women he knew, and make him love her. They both realize that Catcher does love her, but as he is proposing, one of his many lovers appears and thanks Barbara for what she has done for womankind. Barbara realizes that she does not want love or him as she has become a real "down with love" girl. Vikki and Peter's relationship also changes when she insults him for helping Catcher. Peter realizes he is indeed like any other man and takes Vikki to Catcher's apartment to take things to the next level.
Days later, Catcher is completely depressed; all his efforts to win Barbara back have failed. Even his exposé is ruined now that Barbara has told her story in her own magazine, Now. Peter is also depressed as his relationship with Vikki is now apparently based only on sex. Catcher realizes he can do something and writes a new exposé "How Falling In Love With Barbara Novak Made Me A New Man". He learns there is an opening at Now and goes for an interview with her. There, he tells her how much she changed him, and it is obvious she wants him but turns him down anyway; he says he wished there could be a middle ground for them "somewhere between a blonde and a brunette", referring to her real persona, where she was a brunette.
As he is leaving her office, he realizes she is not coming after him, but she surprises him on the elevator, showing him a bright red hair style: she has found the middle ground and she wants to be with him. They fly to Vegas to get married, influencing Vikki and Peter, who also decide to get married. Their marriage results in a new book intended to end the battle of the sexes, with the pair ultimately singing "Here's To Love."
- Renée Zellweger as Barbara Novak (Nancy Brown)
- Ewan McGregor as Catcher Block (Zip Martin)
- Sarah Paulson as Vikki Hiller
- David Hyde Pierce as Peter "Mac" MacMannus
- Rachel Dratch as Gladys
- Jack Plotnick as Maurice
- Tony Randall as Theodore Banner
- John Aylward as E.G.
- Warren Munson as C.B.
- Matt Ross as J.B.
- Michael Ensign as J.R.
- Timothy Omundson as R.J.
- Jeri Ryan as Gwendolyn
- Ivana Miličević as Yvette
- Melissa George as Elkie
Written by the creative team of Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake who producers Jinks and Cohen described as "a younger version of the famed comedy writing team of Comden and Green", Reed "loved that (the screenplay) was so crazily specific in the details, like in its pop culture references of the early sixties and in the way it described specific action."
Production designer Andrew Laws also cited the script for its specificity of visual details and beyond that "took inspiration from cutting-edge residential designs of the mid-century by architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Eero Saarinen." Rather than employing vintage antiques, Laws and his department created every piece of furniture and decoration, which "allowed the designers to go just a little bit more over the top."
Costume designer Daniel Orlandi said "it all started with the script, down to 'Music starts, fashion show begins'", and added that he found his inspiration for his more than 100 hand-made costumes in "the movie clothes and great costume designers of the era, rather than ’60s clothing designers – with the exception of, perhaps, Givenchy and Balenciaga."
The retro film techniques of split screens, process shots and the lush cinematography, which The New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote "approximates the bold, viscous tones of old-fashioned Technicolor", were the work of Jeff Cronenweth, known for the visually dark films K-19: The Widowmaker, Gone Girl and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. He told British Cinematographer, “I think that some of my aesthetics tend to play better in those kinds of stories, but I don't think it's exclusive by any means... Down with Love was a very bright romantic comedy with a 1960’s aesthetic. I still think you can find my light in there, regardless of it being quite a different world from something like Dragon Tattoo."
- Critical response
At the time of its release Down With Love received extremely varying reviews, some glowingly positive, some derisively negative, and those in between at odds regarding which aspects were good and which were bad.
A.O. Scott in The New York Times praised director "Reed's buoyant homage", Zellweger's ability to, "as Ms. (Doris) Day did", "swivel engagingly between goofiness and sex appeal", McGregor's Sinatra-like "wiry, wolfish energy" and the way screenwriters Ahlert and Drake "have shaken together a canny cocktail of period vernacular and deliberately labored double entendres", finding the movie "for the most part, intelligent and amusing" writing "the best moments have a glorious, hectic artificiality". But Scott questioned "the point of the exercise", comparing it unfavorably to the illuminated period subtext of Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, concluding "Reed snips that subtext away" and so his movie is "less sophisticated than what it imitates."
Conversely, The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle wrote "Down With Love is superior to Far From Heaven" which "seems naive in comparison" because "Down With Love is a very smart, very shrewd movie, and the smartest, shrewdest thing about it is the way it masquerades as just a fluffy comedy, a diversion, a trifle. Hardly a trifle, Down With Love distills 40 years of sexual politics into 100 minutes, using the romantic-comedy conventions of an earlier time to comment on the governing social assumptions of yesterday -- and today, as well... The brilliance of Down With Love is that it slyly reminds us that our modern perspective, like every 'modern perspective' that preceded it, is doomed to obsolescence and isn't some final stage of enlightened social thought."
Opposing opinions even occurred at the same newspaper, as was the case with The New York Observer where Rex Reed's headline declared "Down With Down With Love!" and Andrew Sarris's headline countered with "It’s Affectionate and Smart, And I’m Down With Love".
Richard Corliss of TIME went further and argued with himself. He admired Orlandi's costumes and Laws' design for their "giddily precise exaggeration" and wrote that the Ahlert and Drake script "has a gentle heart to humanize its sharp sitcom wit" advising his readers to "stay for the movie's denouement: a two-minute speech that wraps up the plot like Christmas ribbons around a time bomb." But he found the film to be "miscast at the top" and "conflicted about its subject -- it both derides and adores what it means to parody" and that director "Reed often uses a gong where chimes would do". Corliss concludes "As you see, we too are conflicted about this film. We want to love it, but like a Rock Hudson rake, we keep finding fault in its allure. We want to hate it, but like Doris Day, we finally can't say no."
Writing with hometown pride, Nathan Rabin was not surprised that "Chicago critics by and large embraced Down With Love", noting that "It got two thumbs up from Ebert & Roeper and was No. 2 on the top 10 list of Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum", who gave the film four stars and called it a "masterpiece". Rosenbaum wrote "If a more interesting and entertaining Hollywood movie than Down With Love has come along this year, I've missed it."
In the years after its release Rabin, Rosenbaum in a revised piece and Richard Brody at The New Yorker are among the critics and film theorists that have continued to write in praise of the film.
Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert spoke of the film fairly positively, saying parts were "fun", and describing Zellweger's speech at the end as "a torrent of words [pouring] out from her character's innermost soul".
- Box office
The film underperformed, making less than $40 million at the box office worldwide.
The song "Here's to Love" sung by Zellweger and McGregor during the closing credits (and in its entirety on the DVD release as a special feature) was a last-minute addition to the film. Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman appear in the number as the pianist and the barman, respectively. According to the DVD commentary, it was added at the suggestion of Ewan McGregor, who pointed out the opportunity the filmmakers had to unite the stars of two recently popular musical films (his Moulin Rouge! and Zellweger's Chicago).
- Down with Love - Michael Bublé and Holly Palmer
- Barbara Arrives - Marc Shaiman
- Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words) (Count Basie And His Orchestra) - Frank Sinatra
- One Mint Julep - Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra
- For Once In My Life - Michael Bublé
- Girls Night Out - Marc Shaiman
- Everyday Is A Holiday With You - Esthero
- Kissing A Fool - Michael Bublé
- Barbara Meets Zip - Marc Shaiman
- Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words) - Astrud Gilberto
- Love in Three Acts - Marc Shaiman
- Here's To Love - Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor
- Box Office Mojo: Down with Love Retrieved 2010-10-03
- Screen World, Vol 55, 2004 Film Annual, John Willis, Barry Monush Editors, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books June 2005 p 74
- Entertainment Weekly, Down With Love April 25 2003
- Lyman, Rick Summer Movies, Looking for the Look of "Love", The New York Times, May 11, 2003
- Robbins, Allison Down With Love Variety January 12 2004 
- Robbins, Allison Down With Love Variety January 12 2004
- Scott, A.O. Film Review; Trading Barbs, Like Doris And Rock The New York Times, May 9 2003
- British Cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth ASC / Gone Girl 
- Scott, A.O. Film Review; Trading Barbs, Like Doris And Rock The New York Times, May 9 2003
- LaSalle, Mick Up with "Down"/ Behind retro-fluff look is a smart view of sex, American style San Francisco Chronicle , May 16 2003 Archived: 
- Reed, Rex Down With Down With Love! The New York Observer May 19 2003
- Sarris, Andrew It’s Affectionate and Smart, And I’m Down With Love The New York Observer, May 26 2003 Archived: 
- Corliss, Richard I Hear America Smirling TIME Magazine, May 11, 2003 Archived: 
- Rabin, Nathan Ribald Retro Case File #146: 'Down With Love' My Year Of Flops The A.V. Club, Sept 16 2009 
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan What's Past Is More Than Prologue Chicago Reader July 10 2003 
- Rosenbaum, Jonathan Down With Love (2003) Revised 2009 "Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009" 
- Brody, Richard Down With Love The New Yorker, December 29 2009 
- Roger Ebert, May 16, 2003: Down with Love Retrieved 2012-11-26
- Rotten Tomatoes: Down with Love Retrieved 2012-11-26