Down With Love review by Mike Long

Counter-programming is a term often used to describe the marketing plan for a movie. In short, counter-programming occurs when the studios release a film which is the polar opposite (in terms of story, style, target audience) from everything else in theaters at that time. In theory, an audience should be drawn to that film simply because it's different. The counter-programming strategy did not work when Fox released Down with Love earlier this year. Is the movie that bad, or was it simply the victim of poor marketing?

Down with Love takes place in New York City in the year 1962. Barbara Novak (Rene Zellweger) has come to the city to promote her new book, "Down With Love", a controversial tome which encourages women to be independent and approach relationships with the same mindset which men do. Barbara's editor, Vikki Hiller (Sarah Paulson), arranges for Barbara to be profiled in the popular men's magazine, "Know", by their best columnist, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor). When Block catches wind of this from his editor, Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce), he postpones the interview several times, as this playboy doesn't want to spend any time with a feminist author. By this time, Barbara's book has become a national phenomenon and Catcher has long-since blown his chance to snag an exclusive interview. So, he decides to beat Barbara at her own game. After Barbara casts disparaging remarks about him on national TV, Catcher puts his plan into action. He introduces himself to Barbara as astronaut Zip Martin, and begins to woo her, convinced that he can make this modern woman fall into old-fashioned love.

Down with Love has to be one of the oddest movies that I've ever seen. The story is set in 1962, but the movie isn't just a period piece. It may be the ULTIMATE period piece, as the movie just doesn't reflect that time period, but it actually meant to be from that time period. Yes, despite the fact that this film was made in 2003, it is supposed to play as if it were made in the early 60s. Not only do the clothing and sets reflect the time period, but the jokes do as well. Director Peyton Reed (Bring it On) and his crew have done an amazing job in recreating 1962 New York (despite some errors in geography and assorted anachronisms). The production design, sets, and costumes in the film are simply incredible. Also, this is a film where one wouldn't normally notice the special effects, but the entire film was shot in L.A., and when one learns how the New York locations were created digitally, it's truly impressive. I admired Reed's work on Bring it On (and not just because he attended my alma mater), where he was able to take a story about teenage girls in short skirts and have it rise above exploitation. With Down with Love he makes great use of the widescreen frame and keeps things moving along at an OK pace, although the film does drag a bit in the middle.

But, here's the big question: Does anyone in 2003 want to see a faux 1962 sex-comedy? Judging by the box-office results, the answer is no. But, maybe the film was just a victim of badly-timed counter-programming. Actually, I don't think so. I truly don't know when the proper time would have been to release Down with Love. The movie isn't necessarily bad, but it's aimed at a very narrow audience. Throughout the film, I kept turning to my wife and saying, "Was that supposed to be funny?" The film is filled with double-entendre sex jokes. But, the question is, are the jokes supposed to be funny in their own right, or are they supposed to be funny because they would have been considered risque in 1962? No matter which of these options one picks, the only true laughs in the film come from David Hyde Pierce, and he's just doing his sissy-man schtick that you can see for free any week on "Frasier". The rest of the cast is charming as well, and the film does contain a plot twist at the 75 minute mark which I wasn't expecting (I honestly wasn't expecting ANY plot twist), but the film remains a confusing enigma. Those who are fans of 1960's pillow-talk comedies may find this film appealing, but why wouldn't they just watch one of the original movies?

Down with Love time travels onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film is being offered in two separate releases, one full-frame, the other widescreen. For this review, the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The most striking thing about this transfer is the colors. The filmmakers have attempted the re-create the bold Technicolor look of the 1960's era films, and the shades here are truly striking, most notably the pastels which dominate the film. As for the image, it is clear and free from any detrimental grain or defects from the source print. Yet, I found the picture to be quite soft, bordering on blurry at times. It's impossible to tell if this is a defect in the transfer, or an artistic choice on the part of the filmmakers. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is serviceable, as it provides clear dialogue and the score by Marc Shaiman sounds fine here. But, the only real surround sound action comes from musical cues and various crowd noises -- of course, that's to be expected from a dialogue-driven comedy.

The DVD contains several insightful extras. Director Peyton Reed provides a very good audio commentary, as he speaks at length during the film, discussing the sets, actors, special effects and the story. His chat is never too technical and gives a very in-depth look into how the film was made. In an odd move, there are two scenes which are viewed on TV in the film, that are included here in their entirety -- the first being Barbara's appearance on the "Guess My Game" show (1 minute) and the other being the song which Barbara and Catcher perform during the closing credits (4 minutes). In an even odder move, there is a 35-second testimonial about a woman whose life was changed by Barbara's book. (Was this a commercial at some point?) There are 5 deleted scenes, all of which are pretty pointless and total only 3 1/2 minutes, which can be viewed with or without commentary by Reed. The funniest part of the DVD is the 7 minute gag reel. There is a brief (1 minute) reel of hair and wardrobe tests.

The remainder of the extras are short featurettes. "On 'Location' with Down with Love" (2 1/2 minutes) examines how the CG New York was created for the film. Production designer Andrew Laws discusses the construction of the sets in "Creating the World of Down with Love" (3 minutes). Likewise, costume designer Daniel Orlandi reveals how new clothes were made to look vintage in "The Costumes of Down with Love" (2 1/2 minutes). "The Swingin' Sounds of Down with Love" allows composer Marc Shaiman to describe how he scored every move and nuance in the film. "Down with Love, Up with Tony Randall" (2 minutes) takes a look at how the veteran actor was lured onto the project. With "Down with Love - Split Decisions" (3 minutes), director Peyton Reed discusses the use of split-screen in the film and how motion-controlled cameras were used to get everything perfect. Finally, we have a 13-minute "making-of" special from HBO, which is contains so many clips from the film, it's more like a commercial than a behind-the-scenes featurette.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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