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'Down with Love'

'Down with Love' is Up with Camp

Friday, May 16, 2003

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Q: What did Kim Novak's bra and panties bring at the MGM auction?
A: A standing ovation.

-- Paul Lynde on "Hollywood Squares"

Would somebody explain to me why Catherine Zeta-Jones got an Oscar for "Chicago" instead of Renee Zellweger? It could only have been due to her hubby's Hollywood lobbying power.



RATING: PG for mild sexual allusions.

STARRING: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall, David Hyde Pierce

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed


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But never mind. Renee's my girl -- and I bet she'll be yours -- in "Down With Love," a silly, savvy send-up of those sophisticated sex comedies from the heyday of Doris and Rock.

Zellweger is author Barbara Novak, in Manhattan to promote her revolutionary new book, "Down With Love," a pre-feminist call for women to put career over romance. She's a gal who has sworn off love and thus the perfect target for a guy who thinks he doesn't need it: Ace journalist and cad Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) is determined to expose her -- in more ways than one.

Filmed in saturated '60s Day-Glo Technicolor with rear-projection process and stock shots, it is set -- it could ONLY be set -- in New York City, a Camelot time and place where JFK's "Profiles in Courage" tops the best-seller list, everybody's apartment has a fabulous skyline view, and you can get a taxi the instant you hail one.

In particular, director Peyton Reed ("Bring It On") is spoofing the three Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles "Pillow Talk," "Lover Come Back" and "Send Me No Flowers" -- the last of which featured Paul Lynde as a hilarious cemetery plot salesman. That, I feel, justifies the opening quote, though Renee's Novak is no relation to Kim except that her heroine's virginity must remain intact to the end, with wedding bells just around the credits' corner.

Zellweger is delightful with her sweet puffy baby face, beautiful eyes and skin, cute blond flip and early-Streisand dumbfounded charm.

McGregor, in Baz Luhrmann's $53-million "Moulin Rouge," was supposed to combine the qualities of Hudson, Cary Grant and Bobby Darrin but didn't quite manage it. When he first launched into Elton John's "Your Song," I thought it was an amusing parody; by the third full-orchestral reprise, I realized it was the serious theme song. He sang his heart out and tried to sell it, but...

Here, composer Marc Shaiman (Grammy winner for the current Broadway hit "Hairspray") gives him a fab finale tune called "Here's to Love," in which he strains badly.

McGregor's best friend and neurotic boss at "Know" magazine is David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier" fame, over-the-top and decidedly unfunny in an effort to replicate the stock Tony Randall character of all three Day-Hudson films. But, whoa! There's the actual Tony Randall, at the tender age of 82, in a cameo role -- his first film appearance in 25 years, sadly not maximized.

Production designer Andrew Laws and costume designer Daniel Orlandi do superb jobs of decorating the set and Zellweger in matching shades of orchid. They, as well as screenwriters Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, owe their inspiration to Kay Thompson's great "Think Pink" number (plus the beatnik party scene) in Stanley Donen's "Funny Face."

But Zellweger's terrific, incredibly long monologue in the denouement is an original gem, as are the split-screen sexual gags and outrageous double entendres that pepper the script.

Special added bonus! A great clip of Judy Garland singing the Harold Arlen title song -- stupidly attributed to the Ed Sullivan Show, rather than Judy's own. I know because I watched it with my parents in our living room in 1962.

How about that for camp credentials. And how about "Down With Love" for a campy delight.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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