When I first saw this then brand new movie on my flight back from Crete in September 2003, I hated it.
It scored a massive own-goal from the get-go, by attempting to look and sound like a film made in the 1960s. This goal was, and remains, disastrous.
It's saturated with music, rapid cuts, and at least one character who is gay. Just how much more twenty-first century could they have made this? Even the opening narrator delivers his dialogue as a parody, rather than playing it straight as an actor in the '60s would have. Don't get me started on its anachronisms.
Watching it on TV again tonight however, I found I was laughing out loud in places. The complex story is conveyed very clearly indeed, and the dialogue absolutely sparkles throughout. David Hyde Pierce seems to have a rare ability to take any script and magnify it to hilarity, so with this one - as Peter MacMannus - he's on top form throughout.
Vickie Hiller: "At one point, I had even convinced myself that life was all one big zany sex comedy and you had switched keys with the lead to use his swinging pad to snare me."
Peter MacMannus: "I did! I did switch keys with the lead!"
Catcher Block: "I'm taking her to my place which she still thinks is your place by saying the guy she thinks I am who acts like you has a meeting there with you and the guy who she still doesn't know I really am."
Barbara Novak: "Another ruse, Catcher? You know I have no interest in seeing you."
Catcher Block: "But you know you have to, and you know I know you have to. I'm sure you know how things are at Know ever since your new Now."
Barbara Novak: "I have no way of knowing how things are now at Know. I knew how things were at Know before Now."
Catcher Block: "Then you should know now at Know things are a lot like they are at Now…"
As you can see, pretty well everyone here gets gold.
The film's most memorable contribution to cinema though must be Renée Zellweger's enormous monologue towards the end. In a single locked-off shot she recounts the entire plot of the film so far, including most of its legion twists and turns, commanding the frame alone for just over three whole minutes! While her performance is one which almost any actress ought to be able to pull off, the skill required for someone to write it (Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake), and the integrity necessary for a director (Peyton Reed) and editor (Larry Bock) to preserve it uncut all the way through onto cinema screens, make this a rare moment to behold indeed.
Alas, such a monumental build-up requires an absolutely priceless expression on the listening character's face to cut to afterwards and, sorry to say, Ewan McGregor fumbles it. Maybe noone told him this would be the movie's biggest, funniest gag.
The design throughout is lovely too, and there are plenty of respectful nods to practitioners of the era, even if the know-how of it is missed. Judy Garland gets a song in seamlessly, although I now see that this is dumbfoundingly absent from the soundtrack album.
So, almost nine years later, having just watched it again, this time I really enjoyed it. Well, the second half anyway.
Here's to Down With Love.