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Down with Love
Renée Zelwegger’s Greatest Romcom (Oops! All Romcoms: Part 2 of 4)
The music! The costumes! (Outrageous French accent) The mise-en-scene! Down with Love (2003) celebrates its 20-year anniversary on May 9th. This is a movie about men and women (in the hetero sense), sex, gender roles, and sex. With humor!
What I find especially impressive about Down with Love is how efficient its first act is. Within thirty minutes, we understand every major player, and what motivates them We see the rise of Barbara Novak (Renée Zelwegger) on the back of her eponymous hit book: Down with Love. She’s arrived in the big apple to stick it to sexist scumbags, and in doing so she alienates many of the scumbags of New York that she’d like to bang. Enter sexist scumbag Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), who feels stung at having missed out on his opportunity to be at the forefront of her success, so he commits himself to exposing her as a hypocrite and destroying her career. We also meet Vikki (Sarah Paulson) and Peter (David Hyde Pierce in top comedy form), but I’ll let you see what they’re on about for yourself.
The movie threads a unique needle: Catcher Block is the typical everyman that most (hetero) men think they want to be. He gets the girls, he’s got the job, he’s charming, other men want to be him, etc. In more standard romcom fare, this would require a reduction or elimination in the agency of the leading lady. (After some standard will-they-won’t-they drama, she succumbs) Not the case here, however: Barbara Novak is entirely in control of her own destiny and knows what she wants. It’s the closest a film has come to depicting watching an immovable object encounter an unstoppable force. To explain how this is pulled off would be to spoil a perfect situationally comedic plot. The craftsmanship is next level. It’s like Knives Out (2019) but for the romantic comedy crowd.
Down with Love is a love letter and an indictment of another time. The film recreates the 60s while skewering them, not unlike Mad Men did in a much longer and more serious form 4 years later. Despite the film’s attention to historic detail, it’s feather-light and easy to enjoy. It’s a bubbly cocktail of a movie with a touch of bitters that does what many romcoms purport but fail to do: leave you feeling enchanted. It does this by celebrating, while not entirely letting off the hook, the ways in which we deceive others and ourselves in order to find love. In doing so, we might just become what we pretend at. Love’s weird like that. It’s a perfect romcom that subverts the genre’s worst tendencies rather than reinforcing them. With love!
Down with Love
Written by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake; Directed by Peyton Reed
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
Yes, the slugline was clickbait; please don’t email me about Bridget Jones! I’ve attached the trailer above, but I highly recommend not watching it. Down with Love is a La La Land-esque ode to film and another time that is much more tightly edited, scored, and acted than the trailer demonstrates. It’s trailer trash.
In better trailers, many great movies are on the way, and I’m excited to hit the theaters with everyone! Trailer editing has come a long way since Down with Love, as evidenced by 2023’s Beau is Afraid, Asteroid City, Indiana Jones (incredible trailer, mashups are very en vogue as evidenced by this gem), Mission Impossible, Barbie, Oppenheimer, and these are just the amazing movies coming out this year for which we have trailers.
There are so many trailers we’ve yet to see!