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Down with Love

Seen: 2003.05.21   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.05.29

A superspecial Movie Night experience ce soir: I brought along my esteemed colleague, a person living with nondisability.

Now, you know there’s gonna be drama when one queen has to drive across and downtown to pick another queen up, then haul arse due north and west to get to the theatre, with the latter queen nervous as shit that SOMEONE WILL BE SITTING IN HIS SEAT. And guess what? Drama happened!

The esteemed colleage is ten minutes late. We decide to take the DVP. It moves swiftly, but it seems like an awfully long way. We pass a boring-looking new Maserati coupé, indeed a Maserati Coupé. (They still make those? Why do they look like a two-door Olds Aurora?)

We hit Eglinton and it is apparent just how far east we are. I back-seat-drive – my greatest disability is my lack of driver’s license, despite being a car fanatic; you do realize I went into engineer school to work in automotive safety? – and prod my esteemed colleague to run amber lights. Perhaps wisely, he doesn’t.

We pull into parking and I hustle manfully over to Silver City, to find Mr. X waiting patiently and nobody whatsoever in my preferred row. (Actually, one row back, but it’s fine. Captions completely fill the display.)

Hell hath no worry like a queen in a hurry.

OK: le film. As usual, one starts with other reviews. (Why pretend to be original?) It’s an object lesson in why straight guys should be sent to review gay movies only as a last resort. How many male reviewers do we need to call Down with Love “pointless” (do your own search) before it starts to sound like a conspiracy?

Critics are like that: They tend to have identical tastes. That’s how they get their jobs. How else to explain why indie rock gets so much press? It certainly doesn’t sell. (This is a bugbear of mine, you see.)

Now, with only one apparent homosexualist character, just how is Down with Love gay? In small details, like script, casting, performance, art direction, costume (above all), score, and direction. Straight guys never liked the object of this homage, Day/Hudson films (of which there were only ever four), in the first place. Too girly. Much too girly. Especially since both leads actually were girls. That has triggered a revisionism: Even the old coots who might have admitted they loved the breezy, inconsequential entertainment value of the old pictures had to revise and butch up their opinions once Rock turned out to be more Paper or Scissors.

Zellweger is a bit of a trifle. I’ve never bought her, based mostly on an instinctual mammalian aversion to her squinty eyes, focused perpetually in the distance stared at by the stupid. She needs lighter material: A murderess she ain’t. And you can’t get much lighter than this. The entire story exists as an excuse for wit, in-jokes, and true situation comedy. If you look at it – and you know what I think about screenplay-structure snobs – the story is actually densely packed. It doesn’t have to be Schindler’s List to be well-written, tight, and enjoyable.

As Lane pointed out about 8 Women, the plot is so convoluted it can be dismissed entirely. It’s all about a ride – and enjoying it. (Oh, but we were allowed to like 8 Women: Catherine Deneuve was in it, and it’s French, so you retain your intellectual street cred.)

Remember, enjoyment at the movies is sanctioned if delivered through bombast. Anything a teenage boy with no sexual identity issues would like is OK, right? So blowing shit up is fine because somebody, some presumed default or expected audience, likes shit blown up. Subtle enjoyment, a preference for wordplay (and even better, wordplay united with dead-on line readings, costumes an inch removed from Busby Berkeley, and interior design of Tyler Brûlé–religious-experience calibre)... well, you’re not suppose to have that kind of enjoyment. Too stylized. Too twee.

But if I’m going to dis snobbery, let me dis all kinds. To enjoy Down with Love is unlike, say, enjoying important serious dramas of the Traffic ilk, where thinking is required and the films are held in esteem for that reason. Immediately getting the clever pun and laughing genuinely out loud is seen as what, outré?

No, outré is too twee a word. The word signifies the problem.

I don’t get why straight critics are immune to charm. Ewan McGregor has it by the shitload. He blows shitloads up with his charm. In essence, he’s channelling Alex in Shallow Grave, all the easy bravado and strong fluency. (The British actors and their fluency. Or Scottish.) And he can move: Why will no one give him credit for his ability to dance without music? He could even move in The Pillow Book. The squaresville haircut, and precision-engineered dye job, work wonders, as does the wardrobe. I want, for example, his dark-electric-blue blazer. If nothing else, it would make a jolly nice set of curtains.

Pedant’s note: Translations of the actual book entitled Down with Love were fun to look at (most of the typography in the film was not historically incorrect; note that I did not say “all”), but the Russian version carries the cover Nyet Lyubot, in Latin characters. (Shouldn’t it be Нет Любот?) ¶ Also, my esteemed colleague and I had a heart attack when the boom mike appeared in frame (according to legend, such appearances are due to projectionist error) and, seconds later, the caméraman, as they say in French, was visible in reflection in the surface of a wall-mounted oven.

Theatre experience

Apart from fretting hither and yon, no problem whatsoever. Playa Windexed our reflectors. Mr. X showed his ID and left his phone number, a typical scenario at Yonge & Eg.

Also, the reflector/emitter problem was completely solved. Go, manifestly-competent heavy-metal projectionist!

Caption quality

We have the ongoing philosophical problem (I am aware that some captioning lifers are no longer interested in captioning philosophy) of how to notate accents. There are of course two kinds: The natural accent of the actor (think Patrick Stewart in Star Trek) and an adopted accent, which I guess is only relevant when it is adopted for only part of a production. In Down with Love, one reads (with American accent):. American as opposed to what? We were never told Catcher Block speaks in a Scottish accent before that time. Also (British accent): No, Scottish! (I am aware the Scots are legally British, but then the Newfoundlanders are legally Canadian, and try telling them that.)

NARRATOR (voice-over): For the one billionth time, knock off this voice-over: business. In Solaris it was necessary, but not here, and almost never. When, save for Fight Club (where Ed Norton’s character was the Narrator), are narrators not voiced over?

Still not sure down at GBH whether captions can end in commas or not (they can):


We have yet further evidence that, in a system with no italics, publication names must be written without quotation marks:

"Item: 'Know Magazine's'
star journalist,

Similarly, Know!" should actually have been Know"!: The journeyman error of placing bangs inside quotes.

The darndest thing: It’s darnedest. The most darned. You know, like damned (not damnd).

which, this week, is at your booksellers' from coast to coast: It’s singular. At booksellers would be plural. Young people tend not to understand this distinction because they haven’t read enough. Similarly, ♪ We'll walk down the aisles to an angels' chorus ♪: No, angel's. The chorus of an angel.

I don’t know why the display cannot display common accents: Exposé and expose are rather different words. Sex a la carte also needs an accent, and of course more widespread practice.

How not to render one-third of a sentence in the same composite caption with another sentence:

-and you do not believe

Description quality

A new narratrix! Lynne Maclean. She’s got a really saucy and innuendo-laden delivery at times. Zellweger “wraps a towel around her body and steps into a pair of pink fluffy heels.” With soap bubbles all over the place. “Seizing her arm, he roughly presses his lips to hers”: She really sells the line.

Whoa, here’s a biggie. The bumpers at show opening were misdescribed. “A News Corporation Company,” a typical Twentieth Century-Fox disclaimer. But the screen actually showed a retro allusion: A CINEMASCOPE PRODUCTION. What happened?

“She covers her décolletage as he lowers to a roof” (on a ladder hung from a helicopter). Décolletage? How gay.

“Catcher gapes!”: Imagine a DVS production without the overuse of that word. (Catcher, amusingly, is Catcher Block, Ewan McGregor’s character.) Oh, but later: “Catch stares with parted lips.” He doesn’t gape?

“In Peter’s modest apartment”: “Modest”? With gigantic panoramic fenestration providing a sweeping view, wood-paneled walls, and immaculate Modernist furniture? At 73rd and Park Avenue?

Catcher Block works for Know magazine (source of an extended pun sequence later that bordered on the orgasmic). It’s a tad ambiguous, though, to hear the narratrix say “At Know, Catcher types at his desk.” Come again?

Way, way, way too many credits to describe, hence euphemisms like “and others” and “and other songs.” Why too little time? Because credits roll alongside credit cookies. The day is going to come when credit cookies prevent description of end credits at all.


No problem.

Exit interview

No problem.

But I had my esteemed colleague write his own review. Take it away, esteemed colleague!

I am an able-bodied person. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have my hearing or sight impaired or, worse, taken away. Watching the film Down with Love with assistance of MoPix captioning and description reminded me that some things are done sometimes with some degree of effect to accommodate some disabled persons.

The film itself was pretty darned good. A spoof of a genre that was both hilarious and affectionately nostalgic. The third protagonist of the film was New York City circa early 1960-something. An innocent New York full of Futurama-style nifty gizmos and impeccably beautiful people with bags of money. The most pressing issue of the day was whether one loveless man could ever really fall in love with one woman who pretended she didn’t believe in falling in love in order to capture the heart of the man she loved.

There never has been a New York where such trivialities could hold any relevance. Recent tragedies make the fantasy of the movie all the more attractive. Down with Love is a funky, funny escape from New York.

I have to admit I couldn’t keep the audio description going. I found the sound quality poor and the describer’s voice scratchy. Though the description itself was interesting, I found it distracting, and when I tried to close my eyes I found I couldn’t follow what was going on at all. However, I have had no experience with audio description, at all, ever.

The captioning, on other hand, really added to the experience of the film. The words are projected onto a clear plastic screen so that theoretically one could watch the film through the captioning [reflector]. This was very cool. Often when watching a translated film I find it difficult to constantly shift my gaze from words at the bottom of the screen to the main body of the screen where all the action is. Not so here. I never felt I was missing anything by reading the captions. My gracious host even noted that I tended to laugh before the punchline was said. I must have been reading the captions, though the whole process was so seamless, I can’t recall.

My esteemed colleague fails to note that I had to turn the volume up on the headset. He thought it wasn’t working. Then again, the locations of the on/off switch and volume control are not really self-evident.

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