Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers... Classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies that hark back to a golden age of Hollywood kitsch. It's easy to sneer at them now - - America's most wholesome blonde paired with Tinseltown's most closeted homosexual - - but, in the late '50s and early '60s, these ultra-glossy confections captivated jaded audiences with their high style, snappy repartee and eternally chaste romance.
Pitched halfway between tribute and parody, Down With Love expertly replicates the Technicolor excess of the Day/Hudson era. Costumes, sets and music drip with period atmosphere as process shots, back projections and split-screens revive a defunct cinematic vocabulary. And though Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger can only hope to emulate Doris and Rock's inimitable chemistry, they deftly pay homage with just the right amount of tongue-lodged-in-cheek. Far From Heaven attempted a similar balancing act, paying homage to the conventions of '50s melodrama while simultaneously subverting them. Down With Love, however, has no hidden agenda. Campy, ersatz and thoroughly escapist, it's as frothy as a cappuccino and just as insubstantial.
Zellweger is Barbara Novak, a hick from the sticks who arrives in New York touting a pre-feminist manifesto entitled Down With Love. Racing up the bestseller charts she becomes an overnight celebrity - - and fair game for journalist Catcher Block (McGregor), who tries to undermine her `sex not love' philosophy by making her fall in love with him.
Pillow Talk may have won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, but plot was never a strong point back in Doris' day. So it proves here, with co-scripters Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake labouring to extend their narrative over 100 minutes. Innuendo, visual gags (a split-screen phone call between Ewan and Renée makes them look like they're shagging) and buffoonery from Frasier's David Hyde Pierce help plug the gaps. But they don't dispel the nagging suspicion that Peyton Reed's film is really more of a sketch than a movie.