Starring recent movie-musical faves Renée Zellweger (Chicago) and Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), Down With Love plays to the genre without actually becoming part of it. Maybe it's the stylized 1962 New York City setting. Maybe it's the stunningly vivid period costumes, or the perfectly coifed Jackie-O hair. Whatever the reason, by the time Zellweger and McGregor get around to their one-and-only dance number (during the closing credits), you're already mostly convinced they've been singing for the past hour. Instead, what you've actually witnessed is a flirty throwback comedy made for the same reason they used to make 'em: pure over-the-top inanity.
Zellweger's Barbara Novak has just arrived in New York to promote her new book, Down With Love. It's a liberal, feminist tome chockfull of she-woman, man-hating, grrrl-power jargon designed to establish womankind's equality in the workplace and the bedroom. At first it languishes on isolated store shelves, so Barbara and her publicist, Vicki, beg hotshot journalist Catcher Block to feature them in an exposé. But Catcher's much to busy chasing skirts to bother. Then Judy Garland appears on The Ed Sullivan Show singing a song about Down With Love. The book becomes an instant smash. Now Barbara has the chance to return Catcher's, ahem, graciousness, and she does it in spades. He's drooling over her story potential (and her sex appeal). She's determined to keep him at arm's length. Angry that he's being turned down by a woman, Catcher hatches a plan to expose Little Miss Down With Love for the lovelorn, lonely female that she is. So he sets out to woo her by posing as a geeky astronaut named Zip. Barbara takes the bait. But don't think for a second that she doesn't get the last word.
positive elements: Despite her claims that women don't need love, they just need sex and a career, Barbara desperately craves commitment and marriage. So does Catcher, he just doesn't know it yet. While played for laughs, Catcher's business associate and friend, Peter, is tired of everyone thinking he's gay and yearns to be "just like every other man." (Unfortunately, in his mind, being "just like every other man" means having lots of sex.)
spiritual content: When asked why her book is selling so well, Barbara jokes that Midwestern Christian churches keep buying more of them to fuel their book burnings.
sexual content: Peter, Paul & Mary were talking about rock 'n' roll when they sang the lines, "I think I could say somethin' if you know what I mean/But if I really say it, the radio won't play it/Unless I lay it between the lines," but the Down With Love screenwriters must have had that song on repeat while they wrote this dialogue. Everything in this movie is an innuendo or double entendre of some kind. There are no sex scenes, just non-stop allusions to them. Peter isn't gay, but you wouldn't know it by listening to the conversation that swirls around him. (At one point Vicki blurts, "The fact that you're a homosexual hopelessly in love with [Catcher] is no reason we can't get married.") Business lingo is turned into sex talk. Friendly chitchat is fraught with hidden meanings. And onscreen visuals (body positions, hand motions, actions) are manipulated to imply sexual coupling. It's understood that Catcher habitually has sex with a whole litany of partners. Peter and Vicki have an ongoing sexual relationship (he's convinced she's only interested in him so she can use him for sex). It's not surprising that he feels that way since one of Barbara's book's central tenants is that women should stop equating sex with love, start playing the field and "enjoy having sex like men do, à la carte." When she introduces the book to her publisher's creative team, her speech includes sly references to masturbation. Other scenes give nods to oral and anal sex. Catcher refuses to have sex with Barbara as a means of attracting her to him. He figures that if he's coy enough for long enough she'll beg him to relent (she does).
Women wear revealing outfits (there's a joke about "falling out" of one). Barbara dances around in her lingerie. Catcher wears a towel around his middle (as part of a visual innuendo he opens it up and rubs himself with it). An elongated conversation between Catcher and Peter about sock size is "misunderstood" by Catcher's secretary who thinks they're talking about penis size. Conversation between Catcher and Barbara while they're gazing through a telescope off-screen makes moviegoers think they're having sex. Catcher fondles a girlfriend's backside. He's seen kissing several women. He and Barbara roll around on his bed, kissing and caressing. A nudist at a "beatnik party" is seen from the waist up (her long hair covers her breasts). The camera follows Barbara as she emerges from a bubble bath and gets dressed.
violent content: Vicki slugs Catcher, knocking him flat. She slaps Peter. An unnamed woman hits her husband with Barbara's book.
crude or profane language: One use each of "bastard" and "b--ch" (used as a double entendre) serve as the film's only "traditional" profanity.
drug and alcohol content: Peter hits the bottle pretty hard and Vicki lights up regularly. At a bar, Peter ends up passing out on the table. In an elevator, Vicki fills the car with smoke. (Barbara expresses annoyance with Vicki's foul habit.) A couple of other characters also smoke and many more drink. There's a comment made about partygoers being "in orbit." To persuade Barbara that he wasn't cheating on her, Catcher says the woman he was with drugged him.
conclusion:"While reading the script, we laughed out loud many times," says co-producer Dan Jinks. "It took us to the wonderful world of those great 1960s Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies, but [it] flipped the conventions that we see in those movies on their head." And the leverage used is a hefty dose of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days-style sexuality. It's under every rock. It's in every nook and cranny. Those old '60s comedies certainly boasted their fair share of innuendo (some even included gags about homosexuality), but Down With Love does away with the subtlety most of them clung to, replacing it with unrestrained lust. The moral of the story is that we all need love. True love. But road signs at every twist and turn along the way point in the opposite direction.