Madison Avenue go-getter Doris Day, competing with adman lothario Rock Hudson in 1961’s Lover Come Back, predicts victory for whoever’s firm shows the would-be client “the most attractive can.” Zoom in on a can of wax—cut to burlesque rumba-bunny booty. You say fromage, I say homage! Or somebody did anyway, before recruiting meta-musical charm farmers Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor to assay this fashion-packed comedy-of-virginity pageant. Like Trading Spaces fantasy campers, Down With Love‘s designers deliver a Technicolor 1962 NYC to backdrop the spar between Barbara Novak, author of a pink-jacket primer on sexual realpolitik, and Catcher Block, a suave journo-Heff bent on taking this love-shunning female phenom down.
Sitcom writers Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake get the office-tipple banter flying pronto, and the visuals consistently crack wise—window views encompass equal-scale Empire State, Chrysler Building, and Lady Liberty (get it, girls?). Most gags stay true to their antecedents’ tone—Novak primps to Astrud Gilberto’s version of “Fly Me to the Moon,” Catcher to Sinatra’s; women in “China” furtively trade “red” books for pink. But there are too few aught-era swipes at ’50s repression. The best bits verge on satire, like editor Sarah Paulson’s marriage-mad assurance to neurotic magazine owner David Hyde Pierce, “So you’re a homosexual hopelessly in love with Catcher—I don’t see why that should prevent us from getting married!” And the central opposites only attract when trapped in pomo devices: A split-screen phone chat flips pantingly horizontal. Unfortunately, during the inevitable “what every woman wants” breakdown, Zellweger can’t muster Doris Day’s detached fume. Her trademark squint and complete-me bewilderment dissolve her considerable stylized armor and scan as sad, table-scrap hunger. All the proto-feminist twisting (and wit-shimmy theme music) that follows can’t put her back in the catbird seat.