Catcher In The Wry: When The Rom-Com Went Retro

Ever since the first caveman dragged his mate back to the cave, men and women have seemingly been at loggerheads. In the fifties and sixties, sex comedies were all the rage, and the reigning queen was Doris Day. She embodied the emancipated but starry-eyed woman who butts heads with pig-headed alpha males like James Garner and Rock Hudson, to (then) hilarious results.

In 2003, Director Peyton Reed’s Down With Love gleefully recreated these comedies, particularily Pillow Talk, with it’s male protagonists subterfuge. He whipped up a frothy part spoof/part tribute that nails the look and feel of 1962 celluloid Manhattan. At the same time, he tweaked the suggestiveness of period banter, whilst keeping it suitably tongue-in-cheek, a delicate balancing act that depended on the chemistry of his talented cast.

Renee Zellwegger is Barbara Novak, a literary sensation who’s blown in from Maine to plug her new book, Down With Love, which advocates that women should refrain from love, not sex, to focus on their careers. She recommends “Up With Chocolate” the self pleasuring technique of Chapter 7. Aided by her sparky publisher Vicki (Sarah Paulson) she gets publicity on the Ed Sullivan show, with sneakily inserted genuine footage of Judy Garland singing the 1937 song the film takes it’s name from.

Suddenly women, especially mistresses, aren’t lying down quietly for the men of Manhattan. A playful Ewan McGregor as Catcher Block (man’s man, ladies man, man about town), top journalist at KNOW magazine, is determined to expose her. The plot shadows Pillow Talk with him pretending to be a shy astronaut Major Zip Martin, who’s never heard of her, to get her to fall in love with him.

Along the way, plenty of fun is to be had with turning the older movies coyness inside out. Innuendo flies thick and fast in this verbal farce. Catcher and best friend and publisher Peter MacManus (David Hyde Pierce, in the traditional Tony Randall role) are overheard by a secretary discussing lycra and calf length in men’s socks – “It can stay up for hours.” “16 inches? How long does a man’s hose have to be?”

The best scene is when the split screen party line sequence of Pillow Talk is subverted into an extended sequence of double entendres, as Catcher and Barbara seemingly engage in sexual positions as they move about their respective penthouses.

David Hyde Pierce essentially reprises his Niles Crane character, but is no less funny for that. Besotted with Vicki, he takes her back to Catcher’s ultimate gadget laden bachelor pad, and is mistaken for a closet homosexual because it has a picture of Catcher’s parents. He puts her straight: “I don’t know about other men, but I would respect you and resent you, day and night!” When they do finally get together, he complains he only sees her when she wants sex.I feel so used. It’s not right — she should feel used!”

Ewan McGregor enjoys himself in his dual role, and looks great in sharp suits, hepcatting his way around town. “As a guy from now it’s quite hard to play a playboy, every fiber of your body is going ‘You can’t do that.’ We’re not programmed that way anymore.” Zellwegger is great fun, but physically is a bizarre hybrid of modern muscle toned arms and a suspiciously padded rear that looks left over from Bridget Jones’ Diary. To quote Jack Lemmon in Some Like It hot, it looks like she is “moving on Jello”.

When Barbara later explains to Catcher what she has really been up to, the film turns into a sillier, head scratching form of self-parody. Her lengthy breathless monologue rivals The Architect’s from The Matrix Reloaded for exposing artifice with a silly, pre-planned, pre-ordained strategy to turn the tables.

Catcher vows to expose her more than ever. “Here’s the headline: Barbara Novak, penetrating the myth.” “Ooh”, says Peter, “We’ll have to sell it in a brown wrapper.

There’s no danger of innuendo slipping over into smut here. McGregor said “We were trying to recreate that (60′s) style. When I saw it there were two or three moments where I suddenly felt like I was eight years old, leaning on my elbows watching one of the original films.” At the time, Reed said he felt the rhythms in film are similar to musical rhythms. When he read the script, it felt like a well choreographed comedy. “Plus you have all the artifice there so it almost looks like the set of a musical.”

There was certainly artifice: digital re-landscaping of period New York sites; genuine period back projection added to taxi ride scenes; costumes, lighting, set design and score all flawlessly match the particular genre Reed was recreating. From the original 20th Century Fox logo (in Cinemascope!) and a jazzy sax rendition of the Regency Enterprises logo, audiences were clearly intended to settle straight into a recreation of cinema of the past.  Set decorator Don Diers said “Our New York exteriors existed in the back lot world of Universal. We made a concerted effort to recreate a 1963 Hollywood New York, as opposed to anything that might have been mistaken for reality. Through Fox Research, we searched a lot of old movie stills for just the right tone.”

The year before, Director Todd Haynes had attempted the same stunt, choosing the gloomy melodramas of Douglas Sirk to very seriously insert modern complex issues of race, sexuality and class into the seemingly idyllic suburban life of housewife Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven. It seems to be this more earnest, worthy, but frankly, dull model that television’s Mad Men is emulating.

Don Draper may be idealised by some as a poor, conflicted soul who needs only to open himself up to women and all will be well, but with Catch, what you see is what you get. However you like your retro gender politics, here’s to love, ’60′s style!

 

 

Originally posted 2013-02-14 07:06:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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