Frothy, exuberant screwball romantic comedies don’t get any more endearing–or any more thoroughly tongue-in-cheek–than Peyton Reed’s joyous throwback Down with Love.
Renée Zellweger plays the capable, glamorous Barbara Novak, whose runaway bestseller advises women to give up romantic love, embrace pleasurable but meaningless sex, and use their newfound free time and emotional self-possession to achieve success in the workplace. She attracts adulation from newly liberated women but resentment from newly burdened men, all of whom are put out about having to deal with rejection and newfound expectations of equality. As far as they’re concerned, she’s public enemy number one … which means she’s also getting sexually frustrated.
Enter Catcher Block–“ladies’ man, man’s man, man about town”–played by Ewan McGregor with a saucy, irresistible wink. Catch is a star journalist and an incorrigible playboy, respected in his field and able to land almost any date with nothing more than a smile. He’s also kind of an asshole, which is why he blows off requests to do a story on Barbara Novak until it’s way too late: she’s just denounced him on TV as the kind of man every woman should avoid. Catch’s social stock plummets, and, in the grand tradition of romantic comedies, he decides to resort to an elaborate ruse. He’ll disguise himself as a sweet, earnest astronaut with old-fashioned morals, a thick Southern accent, and a total lack of guile, and he’ll make Barbara fall in love with him and then write a vicious exposé on how she betrayed her own stance and “proved” women really just want family and a home.
As seasoning, throw in David Hyde Pierce as Catch’s neurotic, nebbish boss Peter and Sarah Paulson as Barbara’s tough, nervy editor Vikki–the two of them have a B-plot romance that, while sometimes nonsensical, is as absurdly delightful and surprisingly convoluted as everything else.
The cast is spectacular–Ewan McGregor deserves some kind of award just for how his repetition of “the darnedest thing”–but this is a movie where the frills and excess are ultimately half the fun. Soak up the brilliantly colorful vintage costumes, the antique touches like a clearly mounted moon cut-out and obvious green-screen driving, the musical numbers, the fillips of wordplay and pile-ups of double entendres, the use of phone call split screen for raunchy sight gags, and a “here’s what really happened” explanation that’s half-Clue denouement and half-Black Dynamite-conspiracy-explanation. There’s not only no pretense at realism here, there’s a total embrace of silly, over-the-top theatricality, and it’s a lot of fun.
Down with Love is streaming on HBO Max.