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An affectionate throwback to the romantic comedies of the 1960s, Down with Love is a very happy affair that succeeds both as a sappy love story and as a spoof of sappy love stories.

Battle of the Titans

A love letter to a crazy epoch in American history
A love letter to a crazy epoch in American history

This time around, the battle of the sexes is waged between Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger, Chicago) and Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor, Moulin Rouge).

Striving for equality in 1962’s male-dominated workplace, Barbara has a surefire plan to lift women up the corporate ladder and crash through the glass ceiling. Detailed in her book, Down with Love, her three-step program starts with abstaining from love (but not sex, mind you). Too many women live their lives, Barbara claims, in pursuit of love and subservience to a husband. By taking men off the brain and seeking self-pleasure through chocolate, women can then free up time and energy to seek new challenges in the workplace. Doing so will take women to “Level Three,” self-sufficiency and equality in the workforce.

In the other corner is Catcher, star journalist for Know, the pre-eminent men’s magazine. He’s a ladies man, a man’s man, and a man about town. After Barbara’s book takes the world by storm and makes his playboy lifestyle a thing of the past, Catcher sets out to spin a tangled web of deceit to woo her into love. All is fair in love and war, so they say.

Children of the Revolution

Down with Love serves up a buffet of cleverness and history; its giddy enthusiasm for the time period is similar to that of Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can.

After Barbara’s bombshell book naturally instills fear in the male-dominated publishing company, the stuffed suits attempt to bury the book.

With only a single copy tucked away at a couple prestigious New York City bookstores, Barbara’s quick-thinking editor, Vikki (Sarah Paulson, What Women Want) seeks out the power of television and, following a clever tie-in involving Ed Sullivan and Judy Garland, a firestorm of demand for the tome takes it to the top of the charts. New York City bookstore window displays of Profiles in Courage are quickly replaced by Barbara and her notorious how-to book; even China and Russia cannot escape the demand for smuggled copies of the incendiary writing.

Virtually overnight, Barbara paves the way for future legendary ladies like Martha Stewart.

On the surface, it’s formula-driven fluff, but what makes Down with Love work so well is the affection the cast and their director, Peyton Reed (Bring It On), have for the material and its bounty of ideas.

While winking at Rock Hudson and Doris Day classics like Pillow Talk, Down with Love also exploits the very elements lacking in cookie-cutter romances like Life or Something Like It and most other recent carbon-copy romantic comedies. Down with Love features snappy repartee, witty wordplay and a zippy golly-gee-wiz attitude. Even the rampant double entendres go down without the dirty aftertaste of most current sex comedies, helping to make this tart a delectable concoction.

War is Over

The biggest casualty in this war of emotions is David Hyde Pierce, who plays Catcher’s editor, Peter MacMannus, as nothing more than a retread of his Niles Crane character on TV’s Frasier. With Pierce strategically typecast, it’s disheartening Alan Cumming (X2: X-Men United) was passed over for the role. Cumming would have brought a nice twist to the part. Instead, Pierce continues his shtick as a spineless waif who loves women as much as he fears them.

That qualm aside, Down with Love knows how to produce the laughs as it delivers one outlandish twist after another. The shenanigans ratchet up until Barbara steals the show with an incredible single-take recap of the events leading up to the film’s conclusion; it’s a jaw-dropping scene of calculated logic gone mad that leaves Catcher gobsmacked.

Further adding to the movie’s appeal are its eye-popping outfits and sets, an over-the-top spirit and attention to detail. From the opening, complete with the classic CinemaScope logo, down to a hip music video during the film’s end credits, which also wistfully end with the note that Peyton Reed reads Know magazine and drinks Tang, Down with Love is a love letter to a crazy epoch in American history.