Which isn't a bad thing. The witty premise takes itself just serious enough to keep from becoming a total puff piece, and the experiment succeeds because it never falls for the schmaltz that eventually did Doris in.
Small-town girl Barbara Novak (Zellweger) arrives in a thoroughly artificial 1962 New York to promote her new book, Down With Love, a pre-feminist manifesto that urges women to enjoy sex the same way men do -- "a la carte" and without attachments. With the help of her wisecracking editor Vicki (Sarah Paulson), the book becomes "bigger than The Pill," and leads hotshot magazine writer Catcher Block (McGregor) to set out to debunk her thesis. His plan, of course, is to make Barbara fall in love with him.
An inventive parade of pillbox hats, space-age bachelor pads, beatniks and penis jokes follow, with the leads nearly choking on the cardboard scenery. David Hyde Pierce plays the neurotic best-friend role made famous by Tony Randall (who has a cameo).
From the start, the movie takes liberties those original '60s sex romps never could and pokes fun at the whole pipe-smoking playboy aesthetic. One hilarious sequence (reminiscent of Austin Powers) offers a wonderfully smutty play on the old split-screen device. But just as the gimmick starts to give way, an impossible but inspired twist knocks the formula off its barstool.
Down With Love, like the current Broadway incarnation of Hairspray, takes a color-happy nostalgia trip and makes it somehow fresh, retrofitting the era for the "Sex and the City" generation. Its revisionist take on the pre-lib '60s comes with a heady sense of camp: Everyone here is in on the joke and has a gas getting away with it.
Zellweger and McGregor tackled the seemingly impossible task of revitalizing the much-maligned musical format in Chicago and Moulin Rouge, respectively. Those talents come in handy here, as they accompany the credits with a clever song sequence, leaving us to wonder what worn-out Hollywood genre the two might refurbish next.