Friday Film Review: Down With Love (2001) & Strictly Ballroom (1992)
It hasn’t been a good week.
A DVD I bought from an online shop for this week’s review – a Cary Grant/Doris Day film – has a scratch, which rendered it unplayable. I went to a local DVD rental shop next day and rented a Marlene Dietrich/Gary Cooper film. I got home and found there was, unbelievably, a scratch on DVD. I took it back and the rental shop was closed. My mood simply nose-dived. This happened after work on Wednesday.
I was thinking of reviewing one of old favourites (Strictly Ballroom, 10 Things I Hate About You, Down With Love, David & Layla, and The Fifth Element) when Nikki lent me her DVD, Across the Universe (2007), which I hadn’t seen. She urged me to watch it because it’s one of most romantic films she had seen.
After the film ended, I tried to write a review but was having a serious mental block. This happened Thursday evening.
No problem, I thought while keeping growing panic at bay, because I can watch anything and whip up a review easily enough. I pulled out Down With Love and Strictly Ballroom. Although both were hilarious and wonderful to watch again, the mental block was still lodging in my skull. Words just couldn’t flow. I believe it was because my brain was in shock from seeing Across the Universe. I still don’t even know where to begin to write a review.
Right now, at 01:47AM (Friday 08 May) and still no review in sight, I hold Across the Universe director Julie Taymor, scriptwriting duo Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais; their new-found fan (and my potentially former best friend) Nikki and musician Bono’s dodgy mustache responsible.
For this week’s review, I offer two short reviews of films I watched at last minute. Meanwhile, please forgive me for allowing Across the Universe to mess with my now-rocking-slowly-in-a-tiny-corner mind.
Down With Love (2003)
Barabra Novak: "Down with love? Just eat some chocolate, forget the man, and take control of your own life."
Genre: Romantic comedy
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Renée Zellweger, Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce
Synopsis: Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger), the author of a best-selling non-fiction book, Down with Love, that advises women to focus on their careers and treat sex like a man would, having it whenever and wherever the urge strikes. Esteemed and egotistical magazine writer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), a notorious playboy and shamelessly chauvinist pig, isn’t convinced. He sets out to prove Barbara isn’t immune to love by pretending to be Zip Martin, a shy, old-fashioned astronaut. Will he succeed?
Pros: it’s a sweetly affectionate tribute to 1960s-era gender-war comedy films starring Doris Day and her rota of leading men including Cary Grant, Rock Hudson, James Garner and James Stewart. The production design was wonderful and so were the costumes. Ewan McGregor, even when at smarmiest, was thoroughly charming, possibly because he clearly was having fun with his roles as Zip and Catch. The classic split-screen technique used in telephone conversation scenes further enhanced the homage feeling which I loved. David Hyde Pierce did well as Catch’s neurotic but witty editor, and as did Sarah Paulson as world-weary Vikki Hillier.Tony Randall’s cameo was perfect given that he co-starred in several Day-Hudson movies. The film was wonderfully kitschy. My husband adores this film so much that he lists it one of top 20 "comfort films’, a confession not well known to his friends.
Cons: Some jokes and double entendres seemed too heavy-handed and too blatant, which didn’t seem to fit the 1960s framework. Down With Love was meant to be a satire and an affectionate tribute, but ended up as a weak parody. Zellweger"s ability to look exactly like a shaven and sun-burnt small animal was fine most times, but when she overacted by pouting, for example, the chipmunk imagery became vividly apparent.
Conclusion: Down With Love was geninuely fun and so crammed with fun inside jokes, but at times, tried too hard. I was still upset about the scratch on the much anticipated Grant/Day DVD and Across the Universe (a.k.a. the love child of Forrest Gump, Yellow Submarine and Willy Wonka), which makes it a possibility I’m taking it out on this film.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Scott: "You’ve never had a partner. You’ve been dancing with a girl for two years. And now you come to me, who’s been dancing since I was six, and you wanna dance non-Federation, and convince the Pan Pacific judges, with three weeks to train?"
Genre: Romantic comedy
Cast: Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Gia Carides, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson
Synopsis: Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) was born to be a champion ballroom dancer, destined to win the Pan Pacific Championship, but he has a problem: he can’t help but want to dance his own steps. It shocks and upsets the community. Australian-born Spaniard Fran (Tara Morice)-‘a mere dance beginner-‘seizes a chance and asks if she could be his partner, making his dream come true. Will he take a chance on this clumsy Plain Jane?
Pros: A hysterical take on the small-scale Australian ballroom dance circuit and a lovely take on the "ugly duckling’ tale. Although it’s almost a fairy tale, I believed in gradual romantic developments of Scott and Fran’s stormy relationship. It has a wonderfully strong display of family roots in spite of squabbles and insanity. Loved the cover of Cyndi Lauper’s classic "80s song, Time After Time, sung by Tara Morice (who plays Fran) and Mark Williams.
Coincidentally, the film also featured a Doris Day song, Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, which delighted me. Although the entire cast gave their best, my favourite characters were Scott’s highly wound stage mother Shirley (Pat Thomson), toupee-wearing devious Barry Fife (Bill Hunter) and Fran’s short-but-Alpha-as-hell father Rico (Antonio Vargas) who issued this fantastic line: “Paso Doble? You dance the Paso Doble? Show me! Show me your Paso Doble!”
Cons: Scott and Fran’s highly anticipated unconventional dance didn’t seem that unconventional. To my uneducated dancer’s eye, it seemed a typical Spanish dance. Occasionally Scott was slappable for being so gullible. (I’m still trying to decide if he wore eye liner.) Fran didn’t seem that memorable and was largely underused. If anything, she was a prop to Scott’s journey to be a better man. Although I believed in the romantic development of their relationship and its HEA, I wasn’t that convinced it would last, but I didn’t mind.
Conclusion: Strictly Ballroom was cheesy as hell, but so funny. I have seen this film thrice and it still made me laugh. It’s so Australian as well. In case you didn’t realise, I’m a huge fan of Australian cinema, television and fiction, thanks to these: Gallipoli, The Year My Voice Broke, Phar Lap, Picnic at the Hanging Rock and TV mini-series including Return to Eden, Return to Snowy River and The Thorn Birds). Frankly, I prefer Strictly Ballroom to the classic ’80s film, Dirty Dancing.
Be good, be bad & be safe,