In DOWN WITH LOVE, it's New York City in 1963, and love is blooming between a journalist playboy and a feminist advice columnist who thinks he's a lovable astronaut. Despite some clever and campy features, the movie leaves audiences with a somewhat confused worldview combining traditionalism and feminism, with scenes full of sexual innuendoes played for laughs.
DOWN WITH LOVE is a campy parody of old Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex comedies from the 1960s.
It opens with the perfectly pink, coiffed Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) arriving in New York City in 1963. Apparently, this farmer’s daughter/librarian has just written a book called DOWN WITH LOVE, a title apparently borrowed from Judy Garland’s famous song. In the book, Barbara tells women how to exist without love, because love is confining and repressive. The answer, she says, is to learn to live like men by having meaningless sexual encounters divorced from real love. Consuming chocolate will solve the endorphin problem, she explains. This outlook will ensure that women’s minds are free to pursue their dreams in the workplace. Barbara’s contact at the New York publishing house is a woman named Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson), who has managed to get her an interview with the famous hunky playboy, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), publisher of Know, a magazine for “men in the know.”
Catcher has just returned from an investigative reporting tour, where he’s found out that the U.S. is hiding smart Nazi scientists. He is telling his boss, Peter McMannus (David Hyde Pierce), about the trip when the two men move the conversation to Catcher’s new socks which are made from a new elastic technology that helps it “stay up all day.” A secretary overhears them on her intercom and thinks they are talking about the male anatomy. She falls over and passes out, but Catcher waves it off and boasts that he doesn’t even know the secretaries anymore because he goes through so many of them.
McMannus asks Catcher to feature Barbara’s feminist book in his magazine, simply because he has a crush on Vikki Hiller, but Catcher refuses. Finally, he agrees, and a luncheon is scheduled. Right before the luncheon with Barbara, though, Catcher finds an attractive woman and runs off with her, phoning Barbara with a lame excuse. Despite Barbara’s clever responses and suggestions, he continues to postpone the interview rendezvous. Finally, Barbara has had enough of the insult, and she tells Catcher that she will never, ever meet with him.
After only a few weeks, Barbara’s book has become a runaway bestseller, and women across America are turning to chocolate, careers and telling their husbands what to do. In an interview with the press, Barbara jokes about her success by saying, “One of the biggest sectors in our sales has been church groups in the Bible belt. They’re burning my books so zealously that they keep re-ordering – just to have another bonfire!”
Meanwhile, Catcher is shocked that her book is such a hit. He devises a plan to disprove Barbara’s theories by making her fall in love with him. He disguises himself as sweet, southern astronaut, Zip Martin, and dons a great southern accent. He sends a detective to Maine to find out the scoop on Barbara, who broke her heart and made her so bitter. He has a long phone conversation with Barbara, and a split screen shows the couple appearing to interact (though they’re in their own homes) in some carefully art-directed sexual positions.
Though Catcher is successful in some of his plans, Barbara has some sneaky tricks up her own sleeve. The big question remains: whose philosophy will win in the end?
DOWN WITH LOVE has a few strong points, including good casting, great music and art direction, and incredible scenery. The opening scene shows the protagonist walking among hundreds of ’60s cars driving in New York City! The outfits are extremely authentic and very fun for those who remember that decade, and the furniture and terminology (“What a gas!”) definitely bring a smile. Doris Day and Rock Hudson fans might enjoy the memories of the original movies, and the dance scene after the ending credits is adorable.
On the other side of the coin, the movie is campy and over-the-top, but that gets old after about 30 minutes. Also, the attempt by the actors trying to deceive each other makes it hard to realize a true sense of character transformation, which is crucial to a well-constructed screenplay.
The biggest problem, however, is found in the movie’s feminist worldview. Though portrayed with silliness and humor, the movie assumes that women find love and marriage repressive and confining and that they’re all looking for satisfaction in work. The men are portrayed as chauvinistic playboys or gay acting weaklings. Though several viewpoints are considered, the movie ends with a dissatisfying, slightly confusing combination of traditional and feminist worldviews. The movie also seems to say that people should not believe in moral absolutes. That sentiment, of course, is logically contradictory and, therefore, false, because it sets up its own moral absolute.
Finally, sexual innuendo and dialogue about sex pervades nearly the entire movie. For example, there are visual jokes in one scene about several forms of fornication, sodomy, and oral sex, and a discussion about career contains some innuendo about “being on top,” working “under” a woman, and so forth.
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Tom Rothman & Jim Gianopulos, Chairmen
Fox Filmed Entertainment
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
A division of Fox, Inc. & News Corp.
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone: (310) 369-1000
(FeFe, PC, HoHo, Ab, Pa, FR, L, V, SS, N, AA, D, M) Predominantly feministic worldview with sexual innuendo, extreme feminism, and homosexual humor underlying many scenes with one slur on Christians and one pagan portrayal of Buddha, a philosopher who has become a religious figure; light offensive language with one or two light obscenities; light violence such as brief boxing match shown and woman punches one man and slaps another; many allusions to sex, sometimes campy, with protagonist being major playboy with apartment furnished as a campy bachelor pad, complete with hidden bed, hidden bar, etc., where he tries to seduce women, much homosexual humor and false accusation of homosexuality put upon an effeminate, weak man, and visual innuendo in one scene referring to several forms of fornication and oral sex; upper male nudity, female cleavage, and woman's hair covers her nude breasts; numerous instances of alcohol portrayed, including man appears drunk and a person passes out; smoking; and, lying, deceit, a casual attitude about sex, and no moral absolutes.
GENRE: Romantic Comedy