Friday, February 15, 2013

Romantic Gab-edy

Werth: Happy post-Valentine's Day, Wise!

Wise: Happy post-Valentine's Day, Werth. Did you do anything romantic yesterday?

Werth: I was too busy being overwhelmed by all the romantic movies that are out right now: Josh Duhamel and some blond girl in Nicholas Sparks' latest romantic schlock Safe Haven; a teen witch falls in love with a human in Beautiful Creatures; even a zombie gets impaled by Cupid in the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies.

Wise: Better Russell Stovers than trying to eat your date's brains. 

Werth: Romance and the silver screen have had a long affair—almost from the very beginning with the scandalous short The Kiss (1896). One of my favorite romantic comedies gave the genre a re-boot in 1959. Pillow Talk stars Doris Day as Jan Morrow, an interior decorator (they weren't desginers yet) who lives the single-girl life in New York City.

Wise: Sex and the studio-back-lot-version-of-the-city. 

Werth: Complicating her nights out with handsy Phi Beta Kappa boys and marriage-proposing clients is the fact that she can't use her phone because the man she shares it with (they were called party lines, kids... and the phones had rotary dials) is too busy wooing chippies with mediocre love tunes.

Wise: Now there's an app for that.

Werth: But what Jan doesn't know is that her unwanted phone pal, Brad Allen (handsome as all get-out Rock Hudson) has, through a set of coinicidences that could only happen in a Fifties Romatic Comedy, found out who she is and decides to woo her by pretending to be a visiting Texas cowpoke. 
With an accent that would make Hudson's character from Giant see red, Brad proceeds to sweep Jan off her feet to get back at her for putting a crimp in his bachelor lifestyle. What makes this film more intriguing than some of its corny predecessors is how it explores a freer sexuality while at the same time maintaining a sense of Fifties sexless decorum. 
Split-screen scenes with Jan and Brad on the phone take place in bed and even the bathtub, the two seemingly touching sudsy feet across the telephone line.

Wise: FaceTime on the iPhone just isn't nearly as alluring. 

Werth: Brad's swinging lifestyle—complete with living room switches that activate record players, mood lighting, extendable beds and a rape-tastic door lock—is smoothed out by the boyish charm that Hudson exudes. 
His scene where he tries to make Jan think he is gay is so meta in its depiciton of a gay man playing a straight man playing a gay man who's not really gay, that you can't help but sing "You Lied" along with Perry Blackwell. Day is pluckily prim as Jan, the sexuality she is smothering always ready to come flaming back to life for the right guy. 
Expert character work from Tony Randall as a millionaire mama's boy and Thelma Ritter as Jan's drunk maid add to the fun in this flick that is tentatively turning the corner of the Eisenhower Fifties to the Swingin' Sixties. 

Wise: Since then lots of films have aspired to the heights of the iconic Day/Hudson pairing, but one film aspired harder than most: Down With Love (2003) attempts to recreate the winking sexuality of its predecessors while also layering on its own winks to telegraph an even wink-ier level of camp

Werth: That's a lot of winking  

Wise: Renée Zellweger stars as Barbara Novak, a single gal and successful author of the titular tome advising women to forget love and enjoy a single life unfettered by the prim mores of the past.  Of course, this seditious talk brings the social and commercial life of New York to a grinding halt as women flee both their sweethearts and their Selectrics.  
The only hope for the city is caddish magazine writer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) who has a talent for the ladies and timely exposés.  Disguising himself as a chaste astronaut, Catcher attempts to turn the tables on Barbara by driving her so wild with unfulfilled desire that she'll admit to wanting a husband more than a career.  

Werth: I'd admit that to Ewan McGregor before the opening credits were through.  

Wise: The film's designers beautifully recreate the color saturated look of idealized 60's New York, particularly in Barbara's costumes and Catcher's swank bachelor pad.  
David Hyde Pierce turns up in the Tony Randall role as Catcher's fey and fumbling boss, and would have stolen the show had not the real Tony Randall appeared in cameo as Barbara's stentorian publisher.   
The plot is jam-packed with the kind of plot twists, missed connections and mistaken identities that once made audiences cheer for the inevitable coupling of Doris and Rock, but something about the pairing of Zellweger and McGregor falls flat.  
Zellweger's pout and determined squint seem a poor match to Day's pixie sharpness, and while McGregor fares better with his boyish charm, he lacks Hudson's broad-shouldered masculinity. Still, the film ends on a high note with the pair singing a swinging love duet that hints at the chemistry the two might have displayed in a film better suited to their charms.  

Werth: I hope all this talk about romantic movies doesn't give you a love hangover.  

Wise: Just a handful of leftover Sweethearts candy and a cup of joe and I'll be more than ready for next week's Film Gab.


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