New York, 1963, and author Barbara Novak's feminist guide, Down With Love, is a huge success. Celebrity playboy journalist Catcher Block disguises himself as a well-mannered innocent in an attempt to make her fall in love and expose her as a hypocrite. But he finds himself falling for her, too.
Let's face it, the world isn't exactly crying out for a tribute to the Rock Hudson/Doris Day capers of the late '50s/early '60s. America certainly isn't, if this film's disappointing US box office is anything to go by. Nonetheless, director Reed (Bring It On) has lovingly recreated the kitsch style and innuendo-charged wit of comedies like Pillow Talk in this fluffy little frippery, and with moderate success.
Drawing its romantic obstacles from a burgeoning sexual revolution (Barbara's theory for female empowerment champions sex over romantic love), this revels in the changing political climate of its time. Catcher woos simpering air hostesses only to face rejection once they've read Barbara's man-bashing tome, Down With Love, while her publisher Vikki makes mincemeat of Catcher's smitten boss, Peter.
The fluidity of the sexual dynamics drives the plot forward while permitting nudges and winks aplenty - Catcher and Barbara are both trying to stick to their guns (she mustn't fall in love, he mustn't have sex if he's to win her heart), while the effeminate Peter is attempting to convince Vikki that he's all man. To lay on the farce further, the two men swap flats for the purposes of wooing their women. So while Peter is fumbling with the hi-tech controls of a kitted-out bachelor pad, Catcher is using his boss' more traditional quarters to convince Barbara of his worth as a long-term prospect.
Casting-wise, McGregor is no Rock Hudson, but he glides through his role as a dapper poseur with the requisite charm and lightness of touch, as does Hyde Pierce in a near-reprisal of his regular role as Frasier Crane's uptight brother Niles in the long-running US sitcom. Zellweger, however, may act the part but does not look it, her bony frame appearing out of place amidst the curvy '60s stylings.
This, along with a few clumsy scenes and a slight overdose of knowing humour, makes Down With Love more of a pleasant little diversion than a truly confident comedy.
Stylistically it feels a bit pointless, but McGregor, a fitfully amusing script and a neat pay-off are enough to entertain women in particular.