Ladies’ man, man’s man, man about town Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) is a chauvinist men’s magazine columnist in 1962 New York. He’s personally affronted by the phenomenal success of “Down With Love”, a self-help guide by Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger). Novak argues that women should adopt the ways of men if they want to be taken seriously in business. In other words, discard love in favour of a la carte sex.Penned by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, Down With Love is a parody of the late 1950s, early 1960s Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back that invariably co-starred Tony Randall (he turns up in a cameo here). It also shamelessly “borrows” story ideas, like Block pretending to be a country hick to woo Novak. Hudson adopted a Texan accent to fool Day in Pillow Talk, a ploy that recalled Hudson’s hit role as a Texan patriarch in the epic Giant, three years prior.
Under the direction of Peyton Reed (Bring it On), Down With Love has zip but not zing. McGregor’s a marvellously charismatic and versatile actor, but he can’t help but make Block a lot nicer than Hudson’s chauvinists ever were. He also lacks the physical presence required for such a hunky role, and plays Catcher more like a James Bond wannabe. Zellweger, like the film itself, is too self-consciously cute and coyly charming.
The extravagantly loud retro sets (Andrew Laws, Martin Whist and Don Diers) and costumes (Daniel Orlandi) are the real stars. But I wouldn’t have had the characters prance about in them as if on a catwalk. We don’t need to be constantly reminded that Down With Love is a parody.Although there’s witty dialogue and an enjoyable zany denouement, Down With Love would have been easier to like if the characters stopped winking at us. It would also have helped if the filmmakers could refrain - just for a moment - from congratulating themselves on their own cleverness.