I have introduced Down with Love to enough people to know what reactions to expect: giggles over the sheer 2003-ness of a Michael Bublé song playing over the opening credits, lustful utterances at the first appearances of leads Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, gasps of delight when the leading ladies shed their coordinating coats to reveal even more ravishingly coordinated dresses. But the best reaction of all—and the reason why I will never tire of screening the film for the uninitiated—is the literal jaw-dropped, blank-stare amazement that unfailingly accompanies Zellweger’s three-minute monologue two-thirds of the way through the film.
The entire film hinges on this monologue, and it’s what takes it from a delightful cotton-candy-colored homage to 1960s sex comedies to something much more clever—and even a bit subversive. It’s here that our beloved Barbara Novak (Zellweger) reveals that she has manipulated the entire plot from the beginning, and that everything, including becoming an internationally bestselling author, has simply been part of her plan to trap Catcher Block (McGregor) and make him “go out on lots of dates.” A flex.
For Catcher—the “ladies’ man, man’s man, man about town”—this revelation is life-changing. And for the film, it’s genre-upending. Unlike its 1960s counterparts, wherein the women inevitably realize that they can forgive a man all his deceptions and happily give up their career and independence for marriage, Down with Love depicts a woman who has not only been in control the whole time, but also doesn’t want to give up her life to be with a man. And it all happens in one ridiculous swoop. The film’s own exaggeration, artifice, and opulence rockets it past pastiche into a new space where it can utilize the genre’s shenanigans in order to comment on the genre itself.