Remember when movies were fun? I’m not saying that today’s flicks are terrible, or even poorly made. But none of them are as fun as they were in the 2000s. The Y2K remake of Charlie’s Angels was definitely fun, as was Josie and the Pussycats, two films featuring exaggerated fashion choices and hyper-stylized realities bursting with saturation and passion and sexiness. Perhaps two decades of war and a recession eroded Hollywood’s playfulness, the gloom of current cinema a rebuke of utopian portrayals as the world spirals deeper by the minute.
Down With Love was maybe the last fun movie ever made. Actually, I’m confident in claiming that it was the last fun movie ever made. With Valentine’s Day hurtling down the turnpike, I’ve been begging everyone in a one-mile radius of my apartment to come over and watch it. Down With Love features recent Oscar winner Renée Zellweger as feminist author and anti-love advocate Barbara Novak, and and forever hot man Ewan McGregor as a sex-obsessed journalist named Catcher Block. He wants to ruin her life for publishing a book that encouraged women to do anything but fall in love with men like him, and she desperately wants to land an interview with the most notorious bachelor in town.
It’s a classic cat-and-mouse game, set against the backdrop of an uber-fantastical 1960s New York City, where authors like Novak casually show up to lunch in Balenciaga Couture and fall in love with journalists pretending to be astronauts named Major Zip Martin. Sarah Paulson is also in the film, doing some of the best comedic acting of her career as Novak’s editor Vikki Hiller, and of course, there are plenty of closeups on Ewan McGregor.
But is isn’t just the outrageous plot that makes this film a camp classic. I won’t re-litigate the concept of camp, considering everyone did that plenty during the last Met Gala, but Down With Love is certainly camp, insofar that it elevates reality into still-recognizable absurdity. Characters live through pre-determined archetypes, filmmaker and audience in conversation over what Rich Juzwiak described as “how a person/thing is believed to be coming off by itself or its creators versus how the viewer knows it to be coming off.” The actors’ performances certainly help; Renée Zellweger is, in and of herself, camp, regardless of how she might perceive herself as an actual individual. Paulson, meanwhile, has pioneered the format for at least a decade.
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The most important element in this particular equation, though, is the fashion, which includes skintight dresses sheathed in ballooning shawls, so gargantuan you’d believe them attached to a circus performer, let alone a feminist author looking to make an impression.
It is camp to show up to dinner with your editor in Balenciaga couture, but especially to do so in a restaurant where statues of naked men have their dicks covered by golden leaves. It is even more camp to get stood up in this outfit by a man having sex with a flight attendant in the balcony of an opera house, which Catcher Block is doing instead of grabbing dinner with these two.
Early in the film, Novak is practically handed a penthouse suite by Vikki Hiller. (The two Ks are camp.) Novak’s outfit isn’t necessarily camp in its own merit, but this scene achieves camp from the mid-day fire and cardboard cutout backdrop of New York City.
During an early attempted meet up with Block, where Novak hopes to beguile him with her feminist mystique, she pops up at a lunch spot with Hiller in another matching outfit. Simply wearing these downright strange yet glamorous ensembles would probably not be camp in its own right, but flashing an entire restaurant of people in this outfit while taking off your coat while keeping your bucket hat on is absolutely camp.
When Novak goes on television to promote her book, Down With Love, she delivers a series of scathing remarks towards men like Catcher Block in a hat as big as she is. Promoting your feminist tome on late night television is, unfortunately, not camp. Wearing a tulle hat that swallows your head that also matches your gloves? Camp.
Sarah Paulson’s fur-trimmed Chanel in this scene is unfortunately not camp. Neither is her hat, or gloves, or the collar on Novak’s mustard and green two-piece. The bow on Novak’s hat, however, makes this camp.
Some other moments of pure camp ecstasy include the outfit the flight attendant walks in wearing when she catches Block with Novak’s skirt hitched up around her neck; the kitten heels Novak wears while having an innuendo-filled conversation with Major Zip Martin (who is actually Block pretending to be a famous astronaut); and Hiller’s oversized hair clip.
None of these moments, however, are enough to cement this film as a veritable camp classic and unparalleled achievement in American Cinema. No, that honor resides in a hair wrap Novak wears at the launch of her feminist magazine Now. When Catcher shows up to confess his true feelings for her, she graciously rips it off her head, revealing an orange wig that unfailingly produces a window-shattering shriek of delight from me every time I witness it.
I’d also like to point out the absolutely absurd end-credits montage featuring the delightfully nonsensical musical number “Here’s to Love,” which proudly announces: “The battle of the sexes is over!” In this instance, I probably don’t need to explain what makes this camp. (Hint: It involves the phallic-looking missile launch.)
Like I said, movies are not fun anymore. Hollywood lately does not produce films that are so intrinsically stylized in this way, projecting outsized visions of a stylish hyper-reality where feminist authors chase astronauts around New York City in high fashion. Instead, audiences are treated to unending hordes of war movies and twist-heavy horror flicks, each one increasingly derivative of Get Out. So whether or not you have a special someone to complain about with your friends, or just want to watch a fun movie, maybe masturbate, and fall asleep in piece—I’m begging you, watch Down With Love this Valentine’s Day. Fun movies might be dead, but kitten heels will live forever!