The 60s was a difficult time for women, restriction was consistently present within their lives, from their households to their profession; a male dominating world that relishes its stature, willing to abuse their positions at every turn. This is a heavy enough subject for it to carry a dramatic film, but director Peyton Reed had something else in mind. Instead what we are left with is a satire on the gender conditions of our metropolitan past times, and energised it with the lavishness of its atmosphere and snappy self-aware humour that constantly catches you by surprise. I came into this film hoping for a sweet and fun time, and that is exactly what it has given me.
Barbara Novak is a fresh entry into the hectic and harsh world that is New York City, all she has with her is her new book, hoping to convince her publishers to promote it; but the creative team don’t feel too strongly about its messages, coming off as a threat to their ego and position, denying her in order to maintain the airwaves as they are. Barbara and her editor, Vikki Hiller, were extremely disappointed by this and even more so when they find that in their local bookstores, only one copy of her work is on stock; passing by the Ed Sullivan show, they decide to wedge themselves in and have it be promoted through national television, with the help of course from Judy Garland (archive footage) singing a tune that carries her book’s title. As expected, her book has become a best-seller.
Catcher Block is a shining example of the male gender in its era, a successful writer for the city’s most popular men’s magazine; his most identifiable feature is being a womanizer, utilising his handsome and charming appearance to sleep with them, building single-serving relationships in the process; but despite his features, he doesn’t come off as idiotic or ignorant, he is aware of his abilities to the extent that he exploits them in moments that further enhances his career, take for example the success he had on scooping the story on the Nazi working for NASA at the time of space race, which he gained through the seduction of beautiful triplets. Catcher shows understanding of the world he lives in, exposing its flaws to maintain a power; even in his relationship with his boss, Peter MacMannus, he still remains more influential due to his inner confidence and ability to meet potentials.
Barbara’s relationship with Catcher comes before their success through the Sullivan show; a meeting consisting herself, Vikki, Peter, and Catcher in an attempt to come to an agreement for a cover story that would promote her book. In this potential meeting, Catcher plays elusive on her as he constantly finds himself distracted by alluring flight attendants, but in his heart we feel that his intentions of eluding her is his antagonistic view of her book’s message, a threat to his comforting lifestyle with women; ultimately leaving Barbara with an awful impression of him.
As Barbara’s success begins to grow, she becomes an influential symbol of the world, marking a change in the atmosphere; equalizing, at times completely shifting, the scales of gender, affecting both domestically and professionally. Women are finally making a stand and taking what they feel they are deserving of for many generations; respect and equality. Her rising fame turns the tables on Catcher, who now is willing to give her the cover story she initially desired, but instead she shuts him down in the process, even stating on national television what despicable guy he is. Then starts the film’s core plot, which is Catcher attempt in breaking her down, to contradict her own ideals and expose her to the world, thus ending her influence on society.
The film certainly has fun with its premise, as stated earlier, it becomes a wild satire of such a honest issue, and does so effectively as it remains on point with its messages and themes, but providing enough original spin to them that I cannot help but find myself in deep laughter throughout. Its humour keeps you on your toes with its sexual innuendoes and blind sarcasm that you are never able to anticipate what the characters would speak next, even if the larger canvas is quite familiar.
The film’s satirical approach is supported by its absorbing atmosphere that recalls the films of its period. The inspiration is immediate once the logos begin to take a more playful effect, and at a point even states that this was a Cinemascope production. The enter the film’s Saul Bass comedy inspired title sequence, which immediately set my mind to the type of film that I was coming into. It was in Jeff Cronenweth’s photography that deserves much praise, achieving in its gliding and thoughtful camera movements, highlighting the gorgeous and eccentric sets and costumes, just like a classic comedy would, and a recall of the glory days of three-strip Technicolour; the film’s highlight would be its outrageous and hilarious use of the split-screen, a scene that would have you bursting in laughter, thankfully I wasn’t drinking anything at the time of viewing it. It mixes both modern sensibilities and old-fashioned approaches that make Down with Love such a wonderful comedy.
There is, however, a turn that appears in its final 20 minutes that changes our perspective of its characters, and for a while I felt it was unnecessary and overly dense, but the film eventually reverts them back to their previous positions and pushes them to their appropriate destinies. I can understand that many may see this moment of the film to be shrinking in their character’s development, hence finding themselves frustrated by its end, but since I was having such a wonderful time leading up to it, that I was able to forgive it in its misstep, especially since they would return to form later on, and still find deep appreciation for it.
Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger take on the leading roles, and showcase their ability to be playful in their roles; carrying humour in their reactions and development that constantly left me amused. The two possess strong chemistry with one another, finding inspiration to classic figures like Rock Hudson and Doris Day; it is in the moments when the two characters are not within one another’s presence, that the film starts to lose some of its energy, a contrast of how great they were as a pair.
Down with Love hasn’t gained the attention and acclaim it has over the years since its release, but I firmly believe that this is one of the strongest efforts I have seen from a romantic comedy, one that deviates enough from the formula and finds inspiration from its cinema’s past successes and take them on a new spin; certainly this is a hidden gem underneath McGregor, Zellweger, Reed, and Cronenweth’s resume.