0

Iron pyrite substitutes for gold - R.H. Joseph

The problem isn't the concept or the genre, the problem is the execution. Aside from a few sight gags "Down with Love" is virtually humorless.

Conceptually the film appears an homage to the great romantic comedies of the '60s. While most critical references speak of the string of films Doris Day made with Rock Hudson, at the time Hollywood was pumping out examples of the genre as fast as it could.

Unfortunately, those enamored of such films will find "Down with Love" the antithesis of an homage. Instead of celebrating the innate charm of the best of these films it satirizes them.

What's the point of lampooning something that never took itself seriously in the first place? You skewer pretension, not self-effacing humor.

Because the goal of the original films was to offer a reflection on the absurdities of life one must conclude the writers and director of the current film never got the joke.

This assessment is corroborated by the superb art direction of "Down with Love" and the wonderful bit of film during which Ren?e Zellweger is captured recapitulating all the classic cheesecake poses of the period. The writers and director clearly loved what they saw when reflecting upon the genre; they simply didn't understand it.

This results in some really bad decisions. Rather than celebrating the delicately nuanced sexual innuendo reflecting an America struggling to awaken from the '50s, a period of stultifying conservatism, the writers and director suffuse certain portions of "Down with Love" with oafish pre-adolescent sex jokes.

As I said, they just don't get it. Consider "Lover Come Back" (1961), which, in addition to Day and Hudson, starred Tony Randall, Jack Kruschen, and Joe Flynn. The film, directed by Delbert Mann, is rife with a sexual tension that derives its humor from what is implied rather than stated. This is sophisticated.

Though they attempt to create such an ambience, there is no sexual tension in "Down With Love." Clearly neither the writers nor director, Peyton Reed, possess such refined craftsmanship. The dialogue is simply and embarrassingly juvenile.

By disguising this offence as an homage they are able to rip off much that is marvelous about "Lover Come Back" without appearing plagiarists. In "Down With Love" David Hyde Pierce portrays a character composed of two-thirds of Tony Randall's role in the original and one-third that of Joe Flynn. (Fans might know Flynn better as Capt. Binghamton in "McHale's Navy.")

Pierce is excellent. Tony Randall (who has a cameo in the current film) should be honored by this true homage. The attentive among you will no doubt observe the definitive application of vermouth to a '60s-style martini by Pierce's character, Peter MacMannus. Marvelous!

MacMannus is publisher of the hippest men's magazine of the period and his crack reporter and enfant terrible of the jet set, Block, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), is a rapacious beneficiary of the post-pill paradise that was the '60s.

When the film opens the publishing world is on the brink of being turned topsy-turvy by a savvy, nervy gamine whose non-fiction contention is that women should enjoy a love life as non-committal and multi-faceted as that of men.

Ren?e Zellweger is an absolute pip as Barbara Novak, the gal who takes Manhattan by storm. Zellweger's gift for physical movement is virtually nonpareil; her only equal, John Travolta (not in the film).

Any fan of the talented actor should ignore all of the above and take in a show just to delight in Zellweger's performance. And, speaking as one who finds the predictable parade of stunning female perfection employed by Hollywood to sell tickets a conflict with any attempt to make a film believable, I celebrate Zellweger's asymmetrical physiognomy and quirkiness.

As to the rest of the plot, Novak says love is pass? and Block says he'll make a fool of her by making her fall in love while he remains immune. I'm not going to spill the beans. (Hint, don't see it for the plot.)

McGregor is a good actor but in this flick his apartment and clothes are more interesting than his character. Lacking Zellweger's odd physicality he's fundamentally nonexistent as a human being.

A movie such as "Down With Love" undermines any notion that film is primarily a visual medium. This movie is an absolute delight to look at but as substantial as a rainbow.

Celluloid memories: A forgotten but charming iteration of the romantic comedies of the '60s, "The Wheeler Dealers" (1963), stars James Garner, Lee Remick, Phil Harris, Chill Wills, Jim Backus, Louis Nye, and John Astin. Whew! It's a hoot and worth searching for. Much easier to find but also a hoot is "Nurse Betty" (2000). Zellweger is priceless and is joined on screen by Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Crispin Glover, and Allison Janney. And while many will find this one quirky, it is fair to say "The Pillow Book (1996), the antithesis of a romantic comedy, is downright bizarre. Nevertheless, the truly adventurous adults among you may find this exotic, erotic Peter Greenaway film fascinating. In addition to Ewan McGregor it features an almost entirely Japanese cast. I guarantee you, you've never seen anything like it.