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-.