I’ve been reviewing movies for twenty years and this is the first time a film has had this effect on me. I’ve dozed off before (and I was rendered unconscious repeatedly while watching “Down With Love”). I’ve had unpleasant physical reactions in the past. And this picture made me feel like leaping out of my skin. Certainly I’ve been dumbfounded by a work of cinema previously. Never prior to viewing the latest from Peyton (Bring it On) Reed, however, has my brain actually crashed. It’s as though my hard drive has been exposed to a poorly written, self-indulgently directed virus and just completely shut down. I’m not sure I can retrieve the words required to describe how colossally awful this movie is.
Though, naturally, I’ll try. First of all, Homage Alert! Remember how Far From Heaven paid tribute to Douglas Sirk’s melodramas from the 50s and reviewers pretended they adored Todd Haynes’ finely detailed evocation? And that they knew who Douglas Sirk was? Well, pretty much pointless as that film was, it was a towering work of genius compared to Reed’s ill advised salute to the romantic comedies of Doris Day and Rock Hudson.
Doris Day and Rock Hudson? Now I guess critics will feel obliged to pretend they have a familiarity with and in-joke fondness for these films the way they did for Sirk’s. I’ve already come across reviews hailing Reed’s film as a comedic and stylistic triumph. Apparently mine wasn’t the only brain the movie damaged.
The truth, of course, is Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies are unwatchable for anyone under retirement age. Why anyone thought the time was ripe for a tribute is a total mystery. The average age of a moviegoer today, after all, is something in the neighborhood of 19. Even if Down With Love told a great story and had knee-slapping dialogue, it’s doubtful the picture would’ve found an eager audience. And it has neither.
What it does have is a freshly minted Oscar winner. Though Renee Zellweger won’t be picking up any nominations for her performance here as the perky author of a prefeminist tome extolling the right of women to play by the same rules as men both at the office and in the bedroom. Her philosophy dismisses love as a hindrance and embraces self fulfillment as the proper goal for 60s gals.
Ewan McGregor plays a smooth as polyester ladies man, the head writer for a popular magazine. I can’t recall exactly why but, at some point, he decides his mission in life is to prove Zellweger a fraud by tricking her into falling in old fashioned love with him.
He replaces his trademark shades with a dorky pair of specs, adopts what I think is supposed to be a southern accent and tells her he’s an astronaut. Imitation screwball comedy ensues with the help of David Hyde Pierce, who costars as McGregor’s boss. Pierce’s character is hopeless with the opposite sex so McGregor lets him use his babe magnet bachelor pad to impress a woman he’s attempting to date. What do you think-will all the apartment switching lead to a third act mix up? Will McGregor have some explaining to do? Will anyone in the movie say or do anything even remotely amusing?
Don’t bet on it. Reed’s not interested in people. He’s all about the retro sets, his picture’s Technicolor palette, the period outfits, Frank Sinatra songs and vintage New York backdrops. This isn’t a movie, it’s art direction run amok. Zellweger and McGregor are little more than excuses for it.
Less clever by light-years than the Austin Powers films, less smartly playful than Catch Me if You Can, Down With Love has little to offer besides hip sixties references better films have already made and made infinitely more hip. If Reed’s goal was to recreate the Rock and Doris experience, he’s succeeded.
His film is unwatchable too.