Dan Jinx and Bruce Cohen:
Are You Down with Down with Love?
by Tony Phillips
As the already miniscule divide between the dating pool and FOX programming continues to narrow, “Are you down with Down With Love?” stand poised to become the single question you can work all summer to screen out undesirable dates. It’s a quick way to find out not only what you’ll be doing after the date proper, but also if your potential mate has a winning sense of style, humor and flair. The film is a very two thousands update on those beloved sixties Doris Day/Rock Hudson sex romps. It nearly jumps off the screen in a super-saturated Technicolor blur as budding self-help author Barbara Novack arrives in New York City with the sure mark of any proto-feminist: Carrie Bradshaw’s round luggage from the second season of Sex and the City. It’s just one detail in a seamless production that’s not only set in 1962, but excavates ancient moviemaking techniques to look as if it was shot then too. If you thought last year’s Far From Heaven or Eight Women had a knack for period, you’ll be beside yourself over Down With Love.
Novack’s book, also titled Down With Love, is a how-to for the sixties woman who wants to say no to love, but yes, yes, yes to sex. And career. And smart suits. And, of course, hats. As her tome rockets up the best-seller list she falls into the sights of gun-for-hire journalist Catcher Block, whose clunky tagline is “Ladies man, man’s man, man about town.” Catch, as fleshed out by hunky Scot Ewan McGregor, is either in a tux or his birthday suit while Zellweger enjoys the full thrall of former Bob Mackie disciple and costume designer Daniel Orlandi. Zellweger whizzes through the film, a vision of sixties chic, played out in smart apartments and offices punctuated with scotch decanters and ashtrays. Barbara teams with her plucky editor Vikki Hiller played by Leap of Faith’s Sarah Paulson while Catch allies with his lovesick editor Peter McMannus played by Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce. The ensuing battle of the sexes is presided over by a link back to three Doris Day/Rock Hudson classics from which Down With Love draws its inspiration. They are Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers and he is the inimitable Tony Randall.
“It started with a phenomenal screenplay by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake that took us to another world,” explains one half of the film’s out production team, Dan Jinx, who along with producing partner Bruce Cohen took American Beauty all the way to Oscar. “We’d been wanting to find a romantic comedy and most romantic comedies feel sort of cookie cutter,” he continues, “you know ten minutes in every single things that’s going to happen. We read the script and not only was it full of surprises and incredibly funny, but it took you to another world.” Producing partner Cohen explains that with a killer script, the next step was to find a director with the vision to translate it to the screen. “We were obviously looking for someone who had a great sense of style and fun, but who could also walk that thin line to create characters that you get invested in so you’re actually following the story,” Cohen remembers. “We looked at some people, but no one had really leapt out at us. Then we starting hearing about Bring It On.” After a quick trick to that films LA premiere — how fabulous — Jinx and Cohen knew they had found their man.
With director Peyton Reed at the helm, the next step was as simple as finding 2003’s answer to Doris Day. “We immediately agreed that Renee Zellweger would be the ideal choice,” Dan recalls, “we started talking about Renee even before Bridget Jones came out. We needed somebody you could care about enormously no matter what she was doing. In the hands of the wrong actress, she could come off as a ball buster. So we had to have an actress that was likeable. There’s a person working in movies today as likeable as Renee Zellweger.” And with that, the Renee Zellweger admiration circle is in session. Jinx’s tells the story of McGregor talking the producers into making a music video for the film. “Ewan said, ‘You’ve got me from Moulin Rouge and Renee’s coming out of Chicago, we should have a song.’ So we Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman, who did our score and also wrote Hairspray, wrote this phenomenal song. By this time, Ewan was away doing another movie for us in Montgomery, Alabama, and his schedule wouldn’t allow going to Los Angeles to do this music video. So we told Renee it wasn’t going to happen and she said let’s go to him. I told her the only weekend we could do that was going to be five days after the Academy Awards and she was going to be wiped out and she said, ‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous, people come to me on sets when I can’t get away. Well, now Ewan can’t get away so we all have to go to Ewan.’ We were all just so blown away by the generosity of that. To do the music video anyway was great, but to fly across the county to Atlanta, Georgia, where we shot it, a few day after her big Oscar night was pretty amazing.”
So love, love and love on the set of Down With Love, but what about the gays Jinx admits “know and embrace Doris Day/Rock Hudson movies?” Surely, the Oscar-winning production team that managed at least a gay neighbor in American Beauty wouldn’t leave us hanging. “I can’t say we think about the gay audience,” Jinx says with his bean counting cap on, “it’s not a large enough audience to bring it over the top. That said, we feel very fortunate that the reaction of gay audiences has been tremendous, but that’s just extra icing on the cake.” Before I can start scrawling angry “Let Them Eat Cake” type headlines, I remember Jack Plotnick, an actor whose precious screentime makes for a memorably swishy art director responsible for the boldly graphic cover of Barbara Novack’s runaway bestseller. In a movie set in the present day, this character might even feel offensive. In 1962, this character feels groundbreaking. Plotnick is at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival where his Valley of the Dolls update Girls Will Be Girls is screening as the centerpiece film after garnering raves at Sundance. But before we get to any of that, Plotnick has to tell his Renee Zellweger story. “Renee is the nicest celebrity, “Plotnick says, “when I finished my first scene with her, I did a silly walk down the hall that wasn’t in the script. Renee and Peyton started laughing and they made me do it again. They were like, ‘Do it again, do it again!’ I must have done ten different funny walks down the hall. Everytime different and everytime Renee would just howl. That was amazing because I’m the first part that I thought would be cut from this movie, but they allowed an actor with a small role to have a moment.”
So the good news is the guy who’s played “funny gay guy” in everything from Ellen to Gods and Monsters is at it again here. The bad news is Plotnick doesn’t really think “funny gay guy” is something he excels at, his repertoire of ten funny walks notwithstanding. “Yes, I’m playing the funny gay guy,” Plotnick begins ruefully at the poolside cocktail party in Miami. “it doesn’t get any better than Gods and Monsters. It’s a beautiful movie, but I turned down some parts like this afterward. I guess because I was on Ellen, they think we need a funny gay guy, but I don’t’ really do that that well. If you look at my part in Gods and Monsters, he’s a bitch, he’s a backbiter, he’s a social climber, but they just go, ‘Oh, funny gay guy!’ I do get called in on it a lot and sometimes I say, no I don’t want to do that. But this movie was so good. The script was so incredible. It was a big movie and I’d do anything for Bruce and Dan, but I don’t want to put a stereotypical gay character out here. I mean, who needs that?” Producing partners Jinx and Cohen echo Plotnick’s concern. In fact, the two formed their production company five years ago when Jinx followed the advice of some friends who told him to look for a producing partner with a skill set different from his own. Cohen’s background in physical production nicely complimented Jinx’ own in script development. The two met, in best The Way We Were fashion, at a political rally of the gay Hollywood collective Out There.
Cohen, who co-founded the group with Nina Jacobson, remembers, “It was an organization for gay political activism that happened around the time Clinton was running for president. He made a point of being interested in the gay vote and we had an event at the Palace in Los Angeles during his campaign. A tremendous amount of gay Hollywood came. It was the first time we were able to look around and realize how many of us there were and how successful we’d become in so many areas. Shortly after that we created Out There.” Cohen cites the usual suspects — huge workload, lack of a galvanizing figure head like Clinton and a general sense of democratic malaise — for the group's demise, but points to the last gay issue of Variety in which a woman credits Out There as “The organization that let people know it was okay to come out and be gay in Hollywood.” And while his film harks back to a happier, more stylish country, the current slide hard-won political gains are enjoying will certainly not yield the same pleasantly retro results. “Everything is swinging back the other way,” Cohen laments, “as horrible as that is for gay rights, I’m also looking at the environment, the economy, a lot of bad things are happening in this country. We’ve been wrapped up in terrorism and the war. People aren’t focusing on how bad things are, but I’m hoping between now and the 2004 election it’s going to come out.”