I have always loved the sex comedies of the late Fifties and early Sixties. In fact, I have probably seen every comedy that Doris Day and Rock Hudson ever made together several times over. It was for that reason I have been looking forward to seeing Down With Love, a movie which seeks to emulate those classic comedies.
Down With Love has been compared to those old Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies with good reason. It does draw heavily upon them. In the plot of the movie, both Barbara Novak (played by Renee Zellweger) and Catcher Block (played by Ewan McGregor) assume different roles in a game of love between the two. The relationship between the two characters unfolds in much the same way that it did for Doris Day and Rock Hudson's characters in their classic films together. That having been said, Down With Love is not simply a clone of the various Doris Day and Rock Hudson vehicles. Indeed, the comedy seems to me to be a bit more broad. In many ways it reminds me more of other sex comedies from the era, namely two Jack Lemmon movies (Under the Yum Yum Tree and How to Murder Your Wife and the James Garner film Boys Night Out. I have to wonder if this was not intentional on the part of the filmmakers, who perhaps intended to make a movie which drew upon all of the Sixties sex comedies and not just those featuring Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Regardless, Down With Love succeeds in evoking the sex comedies of the Sixties so perfectly that at times one could swear he or she is watching a movie from that era. It utilises nearly all of the film techniques of those films, from split screen to stock footage to montages. The production design even evokes the Sixties sex comedies, the sets and costumes duplicating the bright, kitschy New York City of those films.
Of course, Down With Love would not have succeeded had it not been for its actors' brilliant performances. Renee Zellweger duplitates the wholesome sexuality of Doris Day quite well--a woman who is independent and self reliant,, yet at the same time vulnerable. In Catcher Block, Ewan McGregor creates a character who is very much in the mold of Cary Grant or even James Bond. Like Barbara Novak, Catcher Block is independent and self reliant. He is also dashing, sophisticated, and ultimately selfish, yet, like Barbara Novak, he is also capable of being vulnerable at the same time. The supporting cast, with David Hyde-Pierce and Sarah Paulson playing Block and Novak's best friends respectively, are excellent as well. Between the two of them they play the sort of roles Tony Randall or Audrey Meadows once would have. And speaking of the late, great Tony Randall, he is hilarious as the head of Banner House Publishing. I thought it was a nice touch for him to appear in the movie, given that he did appear in all of the movies Doris Day and Rock Hudson made together.
At any rate, I should point out that it is ultimately the screenplay for Down With Love that lies at the heart of its success. It does draw heavily from the sex comedies of the Sixties, so much so that often one forgets that he or she is watching a movie released in 2003. At the same time, however, the plot unfolds a bit differently from the Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies. Indeed, its ending is wholly unexpected and original. To its credit, Down With Love shares one of the virtues of the Sixties sex comedies--it never descends into cloying sentimentality or overwrought melodramatics.
If Down With Love has one flaw it is that at times it does seem a bit anachronistic. A few of the innuendos in the film, while funny, seem a bit too pointed for 1962, fitting in with the Seventies sensibilities of Are You Being Served or Three's Company than the Sixties sex comedies. And a reference to Tang with regards to the space programme is totally out of place--while Tang had been around since the Fifties, it would not be used in space missions until a few years later! In the movie's defence, it must be pointed out that these are very minor flaws and are very easily overlooked. The virtues of Down with Love far outweigh any of its shortcomings.
Ultimately, Down with Love is a fun romp which evokes the sex comdies of the late Fifties and early Sixties nearly perfectly. I would definitely recommend it to any fan of those movies, as well as anyone who simply enjoys a well done comedy.