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60s Style Romantic Comedy <i>Down With Love</i> Pairs Zellweger, McGregor - 2003-05-10

A sexy comedy in the style of some favorites from the 1960's pairs Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Alan Silverman has a look at the new old-fashioned romantic film Down With Love.

Renee Zellweger plays fresh-faced, wide-eyed Barbara Novak, who arrives in the big city (New York, of course) in 1962 as her new book is published.

"She is the author of the best-selling book Down With Love, which instructs women on how to get ahead in the workplace by dismissing love and men our typical obsession with both," explains Zellweger. "I guess for the times she would be considered a feminist [and] ahead of her time."

Ewan McGregor co-stars as debonair bachelor Catcher Block, a swinging journalist on the prowl for a good story and a good time: a playboy who, to put it mildly, uses women.

"He does, very much so. He uses them to the best of his ability, I think; and it's funny, but as a guy from now it's a bit hard to play because every fiber of body says 'you can't do that' because we're not programmed that way anymore," says McGregor. " That was the point of the character, though, and if anything he's been slightly toned down. After while it's quite fun to do that and it's much more fun to be that way on a film set than to be that way in real life."

Down With Love is most inspired by the Rock Hudson-Doris Day comedies from 40 years ago: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. Renee Zellweger says it is not a parody, but a loving homage.

"Did I like the Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies? Who doesn't? You don't want them to end. They're fun," she says. "There's an elevated sense of reality in the energy and the colors and the humor; and they're smart and suggestive in that way that was so taboo in the day. It was a lot of fun to play on that in this film and not have the same restrictions in terms of what you're allowed to touch on and how far we could push the double entendres. It was so much fun."

Ewan McGregor says the Down With Love cast had to rediscover an old-fashioned comedy style.

"The comedy in these '60's movies is much more played than we would in a contemporary romantic comedy, for instance, where you don't play the comedy," he says. "That seems to be a rule I've heard since I started acting: 'you must never play the comedy.' Then here I was on set really, really playing the comedy; and for the first week of rehearsals I really couldn't get into it. I think it did take an awful lot of effort to find this because it's a style that hasn't really been explored since the '60's."

David Hyde-Pierce, well-known as Niles Crane on the popular TV comedy Fraser plays the sort of role Tony Randall had in those original movies: Catcher Block's perpetually nervous editor.

"I think the fine line is one of reality versus style and (not) to go too far in one direction or the other. If it's too real then the air and style and confection of the movie collapses; but if it's just camp and over-performance and all that then you lose interest as an audience because you don't really care about the characters," says Hyde-Pierce.

In a clever bit of cameo casting, Tony Randall himself has a small role. Sarah Paulson plays the wisecracking 'gal pal;' and the production is filled with the sort of stylized flourishes that make it look like a film from the era in which it's set. Renee Zellweger says one look at the wardrobe gave her the right comic approach to her character.

" Pair of shoes, tight skirt, done! It kind of came with the costumes, to be honest," she laughs. " She's got that sprightly, perky energy and it just seemed part of it. That kind of went with the clothes [and] this girl really embraces her femininity."

Down With Love is directed by Peyton Reed and filmed, in vivid color, almost entirely on studio sets and not at any real location.