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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Down With Love (2003)

Catcher: I'm so sorry, Miss Novak, the darndest thing. I got waylaid by the sweetest Swedish Lapphund who kept me up half the night, and I'm afraid I'm still in bed!
Barbara: My! You do get waylaid.

- Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 06, 2003

Stars: Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor
Other Stars: David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall
Director: Peyton Reed

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual humor and dialogue
Run Time: 01h:41m:30s
Release Date: October 07, 2003
UPC: 024543091066
Genre: romantic comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+AB+ B

DVD Review

Down With Love sets the mood early. It opens with a shot of the splashy, vintage Cinemascope logo that was once attached to 20th Century Fox's mass-market "wider is better" hits (anyone watch the trailers on the How to Marry a Millionaire DVD?) and follows it up with a zippy title sequence (set to a swinging cover of the title song) worthy of Saul Bass. From the first frame to the last (a credit reading—what else?—"The End"), the second movie from director Peyton Reed (Bring It On ) is a tribute to the Doris Day-Rock Hudson bedroom comedies of the 1960s, filmed to look like it was made in that era.

The plot is a trifle, a pastiche of broad characters, intentionally clichéd plot twists, and overplayed sexual innuendos that riff on the faux-innocence of a time before the sexual revolution. Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger) is a fiery feminist and the author "Down With Love," a treatise that tells women to have relationships like men, free of emotional baggage and angst, and to stay on top in the workplace, too. Her book is a huge hit (it pushes JFK's Profiles in Courage off the charts), and catches the attention of Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), a confirmed bachelor, chauvinist, and prize-winning journalist for "Know" magazine.

Catcher, who has a stewardess in every port—and is himself a frequent layover for stewardesses—wants to discredit Barbara, lest he be forced to cease his womanizing ways (it doesn't seem to cross his mind that "down with love" girls still want sex, just not love). He bets his editor Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce) that he can woo Barbara, prove she's really an old-fashioned girl with love on the brain, and write an exposé about her. Meanwhile, trying to drum up sales for the book, Barbara's editor Vikki (Sarah Paulson) secures an interview with the one and only Catcher Block.

The predictable plotting is a bit on the brainless side even in terms of today's romantic comedies. Catcher disguises himself as a stodgy, lovelorn astronaut and goes out on a few dates with Barbara, and she falls for him in spite of herself. Peter and Vikki date too, but because of Peter's attempts to cover for Catcher's ruse, Vikki thinks he's gay (" So you're a homosexual hopelessly in love with Catcher Block, that's no reason the two of us can't be married.") But the plot isn't the point. Down With Love doesn't satirize the Doris Day-Rock Hudson pictures, it emulates them. The lighthearted, lightheaded storyline is there to provide the frame for sex gags and goofy romance.

Zellweger and McGregor fit right into the Day and Hudson roles. Zellweger sells her character's wide-eyed innocence with sincerity, and though McGregor may be the physical opposite of Hudson, he has his smooth charm down pat. Paulson is the perfect fast-talking foil in the Lauren Bacall role, and David Hyde Pierce is very funny doing a mixture of Niles Crane and Tony Randall (Randall himself has a cameo as Barbara's publisher).

Peyton Reed and his creative team used every trick in the book to get Down With Love to look like a vintage picture, from hunting down period B-roll footage to studying scores of old fashion magazines. It's not an exact replica—Reed figured real matte paintings would look too fake to modern eyes, so the effects teams created digital backdrops of 1960s New York instead—but it's a spiritual match, and that's really what matters (though I do find it amusing that hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to recreate the look of a 1960s low-budget B-movie). The color palette is likely to cause eye strain—I hope you like pink—and the massive sets are staggering (and they do look like sets—intentionally). If nothing else, this film is worth watching for the visuals.

Down With Love's failure at the box-office (it made just $20 million despite a strong advertising push) may indicate that today's audiences have moved beyond the kind of movie it honors. But taken on its own, it's as exuberant and entertaining as any of the films that inspired it, and all the more refreshing today.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The period trappings of Down With Love look state-of the-art on DVD. The exaggerated colors pop like Technicolor but are never over saturated or messy. There is some minor aliasing on some sweeping city shots, but for the most part, compression is handled very well—even Barbara's checked dresses look crisp and solid. I didn't notice any edge enhancement either, and the source print is in good shape, showing no scratches and very little grain. The image is slightly soft (though detail is still fairly strong), but I'm fairly sure it was part of an intentional attempt to emulate the look of 1960s films.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: This upbeat mix is somewhat front-heavy, but it uses the surrounds often and creatively. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and the front mains present the score and sound effects with strong directionality and stereo separation. The score sound rich and full in the mains, and features decent LFE, and it is frequently augmented with surround support. The surrounds also contribute atmospheric support and enhance a few wacky sound effects. There aren't many instances of nifty front to back pans, but this is still a strong mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
5 Deleted Scenes
7 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Peyton Reed
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Here's to Love network premiere and Guess My Game network footage
  2. Hair and wardrobe tests
  3. Now magazine testimonial
  4. Bloopers
Extras Review: Director and "smut peddler" Peyton Reed has great affection for the DVD format (witness the entertaining bonus features included with Bring It On), and once again, he's loaded a release of his with extras that, for the most part, avoid sounding like promotional tools. Even the packaging is a custom fit—the disc comes in a bright pink Amaray case.

Reed's commentary track is a perfect example of the right way to do one. He's obviously prepared—he splits his comments between the project's background, the production process, the cast, and the technical details of the shoot. It's informative and entertaining, and you'll probably respect what the film was trying to do more after you've listened to it.

The "vintage TV" segments are presented separately. The "network premiere" of the song Here's to Love gives the two stars of Chicago and Moulin Rouge a chance to sing together. The Guess My Game footage is a minute long clip of Barbara on TV. Finally, the "testimonial" is a brief ad for Barbara's magazine, "Now."

The 12-minute HBO making-of featurettes is your typically over-edited, glossy ad. It's not very informative, but there are a few clips of on-set goofiness that are worth watching for.

Better is the series of six featurettes, dubbed Down With Love Documentaries. Each piece runs three minutes or less, and they are accessible individually or via a "play all" option. They are short, but fairly informative and free of fluff (though there is some repetition from Reed's commentary).

On "Location" with Down With Love briefly discusses the digital effects used to create the look of a cheap movie from the 1960s. Note the irony. Creating the World of Down With Love covers the production design, from the sets and furniture to the ultra fake backdrops (one view shows the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building, all from the same window). In The Costumes of Down With Love , director Peyton Reed talks about the films and styles that influenced Barbara and Catcher's clothes. The script outlined the style and designers that would be appropriate, and designer Daniel "I've been dreaming of making this movie since I was six" Orlandi is more than happy about sharing his work.

The Swingin' Sounds of Down With Love is a chat with composer Marc Shaiman, who had to compose a score that sounded reminiscent of the films of the '60s without being redundant. Shaiman also co-wrote the end-credit song, Here's to Love, and acted as the piano player in the music video. Down With Love Up With Tony Randall discusses the legacy of Randall in the Doris Day/ Rock Hudson comedies. Randall has a sense of humor about his typecasting, anyway: "I bet they thought, hey, he's still alive, I bet we can get him cheap!" Finally, Down With Love Split Decisions reveals the difficulties in shooting a complicated split screen scene, what Peyton Reed calls, "our movie's version of a car chase." The original plates are presented separately, so you can see how they were cut together.

Five deleted scenes are offered with optional commentary from Reed. A few of these cuts were probably worth saving—I like the scene of Vikki pitching feminist books to her publishers and getting rejected because of the turmoil caused by "Down With Love"—but at least they can be viewed here.

Hair and Wardrobe Tests is a 90-second clip of the lead actors goofing around as they try on their costumes and makeup (exciting!). The Blooper Reel is one of the funniest I've seen, and it looks like the movie was actually fun to make. No trailers are included, and a 30-second ad for the soundtrack closes out the extras package.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Down With Love walks the fine line between camp and tribute and comes out a swingin' success. Up with stars Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor; up with director Peyton Reed; and up with Fox for releasing a great DVD for this underperforming, overlooked gem.


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