Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Release Review: Love and Other Drugs (Edward Zwick, 2010)

Fueled by the fine performances of its attractive leading couple, Edward Zwick's Love and Other Drugs is an entertaining comedy/drama that unfortunately misses the mark with its comic intentions, but finds success and is surprisingly engaging and moving in its heartfelt dramatic moments. Zwick's previous works have included Glory (1989), The Last Samurai (2003) and Blood Diamond (2006), with this being only his second venture into comedy. While it isn't groundbreaking, it is one of the better holiday releases I have seen to date.

The film is set in the mid 1990's, where we are revealed to Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a handsome, confident electronics salesman who uses his charm to flirt with and pick up women and engage in empty, uninhibited sex. When he is fired from the electronics store for engaging in sex with his bosses' girlfriend, he follows the advice of his got-lucky millionaire brother John and directs his attention to pharmaceuticals. It his here that he is introduced to the competitive position of sales representative for a large pharmaceutical manufacturing company called Pfizer. He makes product calls to esteemed and respected doctors sampling the drugs from his company, while being pressured by his partner Bruce (Oliver Platt) to meet the strict quotas. Jamie is directed by Bruce to the biggest account, Dr Knight (Hank Azaria), and tries to convince him to prescribe Zoloft to his patients instead of Prozac. After unsuccessful attempts at winning over Knight, he writes a check to Knight for one thousand dollars to let him shadow him while he makes his pitch. It is here that he first meets Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who has been diagnosed in the first stage of early onset Parkinson's Disease. They start on a mutual sex-only casual relationship, with both disinterested in starting a serious relationship (Jamie by nature, and Maggie because of her future debilitating illness), but Jamie's feelings begin to blossom further, and he begins to pursue such a relationship with Maggie despite her strict objections and fears of the future. Maggie is one of the first people to see Jamie beyond his physical qualities, recognizing that he is talented, committed and capable, but also makes him see that too. Amidst the exciting release and cataclysmic demand for Pfizer's new erection drug, Viagra, Jamie quickly becomes one of the most sought after representatives, which could soon warrant him a promotion to what Bruce calls, the 'big leagues' of Chicago. But he must ultimately choose to leave the first true love of his life, who he has committed his life to care for, to pursue a huge career opportunity. Does true love prevail?


Love and Other Drugs was quite entertaining, to an extent. The abundance of gross-out comedy cliches really didn't work here, and while it was an exciting period of expansion for pharmaceuticals and social interaction (with the invention of Viagra), and because of the possibilities of Gyllenhaal's character, the comedic approach is strictly to make it lighter for the audience and more marketable as a film. Jamie's womanizing and display of pick-up lines is impressive and amusing for the guys in the audience, but the cast of supports are the typical oddball characters you find in just about every romantic comedy. Zwick's film doesn't do a lot differently, but it is above average because of the likability of the two leads. In support, you first you have the overweight, socially awkward and extremely annoying brother/sister or housemate (in this case both), who are involved in a number of irrelevant but disgusting gags at the expense of themselves and at the embarrassment of the central character. Then you have the outrageous, sex-crazed business partner/best friend who provides the crucial advice for the central character when they are tormented by troubles in their relationship and have nowhere else to turn. There is also the business rival who may or may not have had a previous relationship with the love interest of the central character. All of these stock characters, while essential to Jamie's character, serve only to provide comedy relief. They don't define who he is at any point, they are just tools to reveal his character throughout the film. The end of the film is strong, which focuses solely on the relationship, which is a relief because all of the other characters have grown tiresome by that point.

Jamie and Bruce celebrate the arrival of the  'Blue Pill'.

The film belongs to Gyllenhaal and he gives a very solid performance, but it is Anne Hathway's sensitive and complex performance that really drives the film. The two share some great chemistry and some saucy sex scenes. The dialogue exchanges between Jamie and Maggie are well scripted and their connection feels genuine. Maggie is a woman plagued with an illness that is currently incurable. She is unable to be optimistic because she really doesn't know anything beyond the gradual debilitation of her condition, and must take her daily doses to control her symptoms and hope for the best. She is reluctant to pursue her interest in Jamie because she knows that she will someday need him more than he needs her. Hathaway's performance presents this woman as sexy, smart, down-to-earth and artistic, but emotionally crippled by the daily struggle that defines her life, and her frustration is beautifully revealed in one notable sequence. Both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have both received Golden Globe nominations for their performances, which I think is well deserved. I am puzzled as to why the film itself received no nomination in the comedy/musical category. It seems to be more worthy than say, The Tourist?

Gorgeous! Anne Hathaway is the standout in Love and Other Drugs.

The film also questions somewhat the morality of pharmaceuticals. In his position, Jamie uses his charm and powers of manipulation on people for products that ultimately aren't proven to work. His verbatim is all stats and notes (which are recounted at record speeds) but he can't personally guarantee the effects. There are hundreds of products and cures for people with anxiety or depression; and now there is even a cure for bad sex, with the groundbreaking invention of Viagra. But ultimately, Jamie himself has one of the 'rare' reactions to the drug, which I think caused him to question his future. The success of his products have fulfilled Jamie's dreams but amidst the gross glorification of his successes he also faces a moral struggle endorsing such products, when there are existing illnesses like Parkinson's that unfortunately have no known treatments and are of personal interest to him. Overall, Love and Other Drugs is a thoughtful, well-cast romantic comedy/drama that is genuinely pleasurable, but also surprisingly heartfelt and moving.

My Rating: 3 Stars

How did you find the supporting characters? Were they as irritable to you? Where does LAOD stand amongst romantic comedies? 

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