Review: Love and Other Drugs

Love and Other Drugs (a terrible title, but no worse than Hard Sell, the book on which it’s based) is an amiable romantic comedy that has a really good film somewhere inside it. Unfortunately, it never transcends into something greater, no matter how hard it tries.
The film, directed by Ed Zwick and written by Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, is many films in one. Ostensibly it’s a romantic comedy that shares many qualities with last year’s Up in the Air. The protagonist is a shallow cocksman who has never really cared about anything but his career–in this case selling. When we meet Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), he’s a crackerjack audio-video salesmen. He gets fired after balling his boss’ girlfriend, and ends up working for Pfizer selling pharmaceuticals. This part of the film is the most interesting, as it’s fascinating to see how these guys work (full disclosure–my father has been in pharmaceutical sales for close to fifty years. He told me a doctor never pays for their own lunch, there’s always a salesman to do that for them).
Set in 1996 (we know that by a title card, but if that didn’t do it we hear The Spin Doctors and the “Macarena”), Gyllenhaal, after pushing Zoloft, ends up selling Viagra. However, we don’t get any insight into how that drug changed the culture; instead it just sets up a number of smutty jokes, including an eye-rolling sequence in which Gyllenhaal suffers from priapism. Beware those erections that last more than four hours!
A study of the medical profession, as seen through the eyes of a guy like Gyllenhaal (there’s also a nice performance by Hank Azaria as a GP) might have made the stuff of a very good movie, but Love and Other Drugs is after different fish. Gyllenhaal, in Azaria’s office, meets Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful, brainy free spirit that falls into the category of the “manic pixie dreamgirl,” a woman who only exists in the movies, but is there to teach the main character his life lesson. In this film she has the variation of suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which is novel, but edges the film into disease-of-the-week territory (and reminds me of Natalie Portman in Garden State–I believe her disease was epilepsy).
Hathaway’s character is only interested in a sexual relationship, as she doesn’t want a real relationship, knowing her symptoms will get progressively worse. Despite each other, they fall in love, and as these things go it’s an engaging movie romance. It’s not Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, but it’s not Gerald Butler and Katherine Heigl, either. I do give credit for Hathaway to have the guts to go fully nude (several times–the fellows at Mr. Skin will be busy when the Blu-Ray comes out). I hate the phoniness of scenes of post-coital couples with strategically placed sheets around their body (and for you ladies, Gyllenhaal shows everything but the full monty).
The film doesn’t suck, and the leads are very appealing, but the film never takes flight. I found the attempts at educating the audience about the plight of those with Parkinson’s patronizing (it is similar to the way Up in the Air dealt with the unemployed). There’s also a dreadful performance by Josh Gad as Gyllenhaal’s fat, loutish brother.
I like films that attempt to mix drama and comedy, because, after all, our lives vary from one to the other sometimes within minutes, but this film never quite pulls it off. Once again Zwick takes an interesting idea and reduces it to the lowest common denominator (some scenes seem right out of American Pie, and do pharmaceutical reps really throw parties that look like they’re in the Playboy Mansion?)
My grade for Love and Other Drugs: B-.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

9 responses »

  1. “Cocksman”? That’s a word?

    Hank Azaria is always awesome.
    You don’t have to go to Mr. skin anymore.
    I don’t know, one of the stills they’ve released sure looks like the tip of his-

    I want to see Blue Valentine. They gave that an NC-17, ostensibly for a sex scene, but they gave this an R. The MPAA is so obsolete.

  2. This started with that awful, awful scene in the electronics store – he’s such an enthusiastic salesman that he spends all his time dancing around the store with customers!!! – and did not get any better.

    First of all, a question: is “Josh Gad” simply a made-up name for an orangutan in a human suit? Or the name of the guy who provided the voice that was dubbed over the ape’s grunts? I don’t recall a more unpleasant character or performance in a movie since Tea Leoni’s in Spanglish. Certainly that was not an actual human playing that role?

    Second of all, I like Anne Hathaway, but this was a very annoying performance from her. It’s probably not all her fault, since the script only had two modes for her to play (cheerfully sarcastic or sulken pouting), but I think she also emphasizes Maggie’s manic swings too much.

    But mostly, this is simply a rancid concoction of ingredients. It fails as a pharmaceutical industry satire, it fails as disease-of-the-week human drama (as if the ham-handed Zwick can pull that off), it fails as romantic comedy, it fails as gentle sex romp (Gyllenhaal is far too awkward to pull off a sex romp). Its characters are universally not people anyone would want to spend time with, although the filmmakers don’t seem to realize that they are vapid and grating. For example, did it occur to them that Azaria’s poonhound doctor is a giant creep? I don’t think so.

    This is in close contention with Alice in Wonderland for my least favorite movie of the year. I didn’t really expect to like it, but oh boy, was it ever worse than I imagined.

  3. Yeah, worse than Wolfman. But, as much as I didn’t like Wolfman (I gave it 2/10 on my site), you disliked it even more than me, I think.

    But I also thought that The Square, a tedious Aussie neo-noir thing, was worse, though not as bad as Alice. Wolfman is old news, dude.

    Also, I forgot that I had a Jaydro complaint about Love and Other Drugs. I don’t expect movies to be shot in cities in which they’re set, so I wasn’t too surprised to see a series of scenes set in Chicago to not look like Chicago, aside from a couple second-unit shots of the skyline. And I’m not even too peeved when Gyllenhaal exits (apparently) the Hancock Center and crosses Wacker Drive, even though the Hancock is half a mile north of Wacker. These things happen, especially in crummy movies.

    But is it too much to ask for the set designers to make street signs that look like Chicago street signs? I know our signs are kind of boring, but if you don’t like them, set the movie somewhere else for God’s sake. At least try not to call attention to the fact that you’re not actually in the city you say you’re in.

  4. Saw this today. Boy, what a stinker.

    This started with that awful, awful scene in the electronics store – he’s such an enthusiastic salesman that he spends all his time dancing around the store with customers!!! – and did not get any better.

    Haha, had the same exact reaction. That was one of the worst opening scenes I’ve seen in a film for years.

    Equally as bad was the scene where Hathaway and Gyllenhaal first meet when he is at her doctor’s appointment under false pretences and sees her partly disrobe. It’s appalling behaviour from him and Hathaway is understandably furious when she finds out… but not only does she forgive him remarkably quickly but despite his continued obnoxious and unethical behaviour they’re in a passionate sexual relationship almost immediately. What nonsense.

    The worst thing about the film is its dishonesty in how it wants to have its cake and eat it too. For much of the film it revels in the vapid mindsets and lifestyles of its characters (especially Gyllenhaal’s) and yet in the closing scenes it wants to get all deep and meaningful and celebrate people becoming moral and substantial. It can’t have it both ways.

    The only reasons this doesn’t get a bottom-of-the-barrel rating is that the closing ‘serious’ section I found mildly tolerable (although still mediocre) and Hathaway does a decent job considering the script and character she’s saddled with.

    Rating: D+

  5. I know most here don’t read Wells anymore but I thought I’d link to his review of this film, which is an incredibly gushing rave. A couple of sections stand out:

    But Gyllenhaal gives his most winning performance ever — not the deepest or darkest or saddest, perhaps, but 100% likable with no audience-alienation issues except for emotional avoidance.

    100% likable?!?! I found him one of the most disagreeable characters you’re likely to come across in a film. Until his about-face roughly 2/3rds in the film he’s a total jerk who is constantly disingenuous and unethical.

    And I’m not kidding about it having the potential to wangle its way into Best Picture contention.

    What? That opening scene should qualify it for the Razzies on its own.

  6. That’s funny anyway – “except for emotional avoidance.” Like saying someone’s 100% honest except for his kleptomania.

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