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Love and Other Drugs (2010) **

December 11, 2010

written by: Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph & Marshall Herskovitz (from a story by Jamie Reidy)
produced by: Edward Zwick, Scott Stuber, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph & Pieter Jan Brugge
directed by: Edward Zwick
rated R (for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material)
112 min.
U.S. release date: November 24, 2010
 
 
Before writer/director Edward Zwick would become known for historical motion pictures, both factual (“Glory”) and hazy (“The Last Samurai”), he tackled the precarious nature of dating relationships between the opposite sex. “About Last Night” was the 1986 romantic dramedy set in Chicago, made by a Chicagoan, that showcased two dreamy (often-naked) leads that were weary of commitment. Now, Twenty-four years later, Zwick comes full circle, giving us more of the same with a similar set-up that delivers an intolerably uneven tone, overshadowing some decent performances.
  
Set in the mid-1990’s, the titular “Love” revolves around two dreamy (often-naked) leads and the “Drugs” refer to the popular meds on the rise, like Zoloft, Prozac, and Viagra. Throw in an incurable disease like Parkinson’s and you got a possibility for some genuine reality in a genre overpopulated with clichés and sexist stereotypes. Unfortunately, Zwick can’t seem to stabilize the film with any meaningful heart, opting to give more time to glossed-over characterization surrounded by a blasting 90’s pop rock soundtrack. For some reason, the movie comes across like it was combining standard conventions from an 80’s adult comedy with bittersweet maudlin trappings, instead of trying to maintain an even tone throughout. 
 
The film opens in one of those electronic stores that were precursors to the late Circuit City or Best Buy stores. We’re introduced to handsome Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal, reaping the dividends from his “Prince of Persia” physique), an overly caffeinated salesman who effortlessly swoons all the female customers. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he was trying to sell a gigantic boom box (circa 1985) though, instead of a Sony Walkman. Like it matters. This is one of those guys who could sell just about anything, all on his charisma and his dreamy bod.
 
 
 
 
 
 
After getting canned due to his voracious libido, his brother Josh (the agonizing Josh Gad), lands him up a gig as a pharmaceutical rep. for Pfizer. Maybe this will get his doctor dad (a now you see him, now you don’t George Segal) off his back and stop his mom (the late Jill Clayburgh) from worrying so much. Under the guidance of mentor/partner Bruce (the always welcome Oliver Platt), Jaime goes from practice to practice trying to persuade doctors to prescribe Zoloft and Zithromax, as he learns the ways of drug pushing. His skills with the ladies come in handy as he schmoozes his way past receptionists (Judy Greer), while dodging his competitor, Trey (Gabriel Macht) to earn the attention of Dr. Knight (an appropriately smarmy Hank Azaria), who could influence many other providers, if Jamie could get him to prescribe Zoloft instead of Prozac.   
 
As we watch Jamie manuever his way up, we’re also watching the birth of a time when drugs became a big business in the mid 90’s.  Pharmaceutical salesman become used car salesman as they tried to load the pockets of whoever’s lab coat they could find. The more their drug was out there getting exposure, the more loaded those companies like Pfizer were getting. But Zwick doesn’t trust that such a story in and of itself is interesting on its own. After all, the film’s title indicates that Jamie is gonna find love.
 
 
 
 
 
 
He meets Maggie (a doe-eyed Anne Hathaway), a beautiful patient of Dr. Knight’s, and happens to be in the room (posing as a shadowing intern) as he has her breast examined. Of course, that gets horndog Jamie’s attention immediately, and next thing you know he’s following her around like she has bacon in her pocket. Maggie is not the typical girl who usually falls for Jamie’s seductive ways. She’s that standoffish artist girl who somehow affords an awesome city loft despite a job helping seniors. There’s an added layer to her independence and reluctance, when it’s revealed that she struggles with early onset Parkinson’s.    
 
At first her illness doesn’t even matter, as Jamie falls for someone who can match his carnal appetite, but as they get more involved, Maggie freaks. We get the idea that she’s pushed away others in her past, fearing her condition will eventually be a breaking point. It’s around this time, that Jamie’s career starts to skyrocket as Viagra hits the market, a dream drug that appeals to both sexes. Now, with Jamie being in love for possibly the first time, he has to make a decision to either put his work on pause (just as this drug is gaining nationwide momentum) or take time out to focus on his relationship with Maggie, someone who isn’t sure she can stop pushing him away.  
 
As I watched “Love and Other Drugs” go from rom-com silliness to Lifetime movie-of-the-week drippiness, I felt a little nauseous. Here we’re given two generally entertaining actors who are usually enjoyable to watch in whatever they do (although both have a tendency to be just plain odd somehow), yet their characterization is just so uneven here. Gyllenhaal is channeling two types of Tom Cruise here, one part “Risky Business” and the other all “Jerry Maguire”, never fully realizing an original (and therefore) convincing character. While Hathaway is acting circles around the gyrating Gyllenhaal, unfortunately she still feels like one part “Dying Young” Julia Roberts and another part “Pretty Woman”. They’ve done better work recently, see last year’s “Brothers” for Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s Oscar-nominated turn in the great “Rachel Getting Married“.  
 
 
 
 
These roles are primarily up-and-down because of what they are given to work with. Zwick can’t seem to settle down and either commit to a meaningful drama or give in to the hilarity of it all. On top of that, we have this couple peeling off their clothes in every other scene like a late night Skinamax flick. It’s difficult to commit to tender scenes of sweetness and (gasp!) character development, when the next scene is a such a harsh change to erotic aggression. I know that this is the film that will be known as “the one where Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal get busy” but that’s too bad since there’s missed opportunity to tell a story about two people who learn to connect on a deeper level than just physical. 
 
From what I’ve read up on the inspiration for this film, Jamie Reidy’s book, The Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, there seemed to have been more of a focus on the author’s career and less on his love life. That’s understandable enough and its no surprise that the filmmakers preferred to gloss over the lying, cheating, and bribing of the drug business and focus more on naked romps. But what’s even more frustrating is when we actually do get some honest scenes that reveal who these characters are. Like when Maggie finds other Parkinson’s patients that she can relate and connect to, as Jamie works it across the street at a medical convention. Or when Jamie comes to terms with the toll the disease has on Maggie and will eventually take on their future. These rare and emotional scenes are a welcome break from the sexcapades viewers are exposed to.
 
Surrounding by a predominately underutilized supporting cast, the talents of Hathaway and Gyllenhaal are relegated to mere eye candy in a story that forces sentiment it doesn’t earn, leaving the audience cold. All things considered, it says volumes to the sad state of recent romantic dramadies, that this is actually the best one released this year. Still, it;s far from a miracle drug. It’s a film that should come with a side effects warning (may experience possible confusion, disappointment, and frustration) before ingestion.

 

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