A film review by Craig J. Koban December 17, 2010
LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS
2010, R, 105 mins.
2010, R, 105 mins.
Anne Hathaway: Maggie / Jake Gyllenhaal: Jamie / Oliver
Platt: Bruce / Hank
Azaria: Dr. Knight / Josh Gad: Josh
There are some rare films that manage to completely defy expectations, and Edward Zwick’s LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is such a film.
consider, if you will, its basic premise:
A young, hotshot Viagra salesman - circa late 1990’s - falls in
love with a coffee-house waitress/part-time artist that is afflicted with
Parkinson’s Disease. Wow.
That’s a mouth full. You
not only have a potential Apatow-esque manchild comedy, but also a dramedy,
a sly satire of the pharmaceutical sales industry, a whimsical look back
at the social moirés of the previous decade, and a depilating sickness
less auspicious hands, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS would have been simply too
overstuffed and maudlin to bare, but Zwick and his fellow screenwriters
Marshall Herskovitz and Charles Randolph manage to create an unusually
cohesive and thoroughly involving film out of all of its disparaging
parts. The film is very
loosely based on the non-fiction book HARD SELL: THE EVOLUTION OF A VIAGRA
SALESMAN by Jamie Reidy (a former U.S. army officer that spent nine years
with Pfizer selling their drugs) and it recalls some of Zwick’s earliest
efforts in film and television dealing with character centric ensembles
(like ABOUT LAST NIGHT and THIRTYSOMETHING).
LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is daring, challenging, smart, uber sexy, and
surprisingly honest and touching in key moments, which makes it
triumphantly stand well apart from other similar genre efforts.
really compelling here is what a stark and refreshing about-face Zwick has
chosen with his career here, considering that he has made a rather stellar name for
himself with lavishly and consummately mounted historical/war epics (like
GLORY, THE LAST SAMURAI, and most recently BLOOD
DIAMOND). He manages
to tackle his starkly adult-themed romcom with the precision of an auteur
that has been grounded in the genre his entire career.
Not only does LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS conglomerate all of its various
tones with an astute precision, but also it does a remarkable job of
presenting a relationship involving mutually flawed lovers that deal with
the brutal complications of their love.
There is a dramatic veracity and sense of character/thematic depth
in LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS that I simply was not expecting.
better is that the film contains too limitlessly likeable lead actors that
foster such a potent chemistry with one another, which, after
all, is one key ingredient that all romcoms desperately try to attain.
It's 1996 when we meet Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal, in an
annoyingly manic performance in the first few minutes that thankfully
settles down as the story progresses) that has dabbled in one commission
job to the next after he left medical school.
After one afternoon on the job ends rather embarrassingly and leads
to his termination, he decides that he will dabble in the delicate art of
pharmaceutical sales and begins his training with Pfizer.
Where he may lack in experience he more than makes up for in terms
of his outward charm, handsome mug, and his willingness to flirt with just
about any skirt that walks by his path.
his training Jamie is teamed up with his supervisor - played by Oliver Platt in
one of those deliciously motor-mouthed and cantankerously unhinged
performances that only he is capable of – and is given several
high pressure pep talks on what it takes to sell Zoloft.
Jamie’s early attempts at selling the product are failures,
especially when his super
aggressive nemesis salesman, Trey Hannigam (Gabriel Macht) manages to
outdo him at every walking moment. Jamie
decides to kick things into overdrive and begins to take desperate
measures, like infiltrating hospitals and walk-in clinics and flirting
with as many pretty receptionists as possible.
Some of his idle flirtations lead to nights in the sack with some
of them, a task that Jamie’s King Kong-sized appetite for sex and women
can handle with relative ease.
does manage to get into the good books with one doctor (well played in a
small supporting performance by Hank Azaria) that culminates with him
allowing Jamie to impersonate an intern so that he can observe his interactions with patients (I sincerely hope this is not
a reality in most doctor’s offices). This leads to one of the oddest meet-cutes I’ve ever seen:
A very lovely looking, but ill Stage 1 Parkinson’s patient named
Maggie (Anne Hathaway) makes a visit and asks the doctor to inspect an
odd, but ultimately benign growth on her left breast.
Jamie excitedly looks on as she disrobes for the inspection, but
later in the parking lot she discovers who he is and physically accosts
him (can you blame her?).
is at this point where LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS begins to find some very
secure narrative footing: Jamie
manages to find Maggie’s phone number and, miraculously enough,
convinces her to come out for coffee with him, which leads very
quickly to a sexual rendezvous back at her loft (the typically cool and
confident Jamie is hilariously befuddled with the discovery of how easy it
is to get her into bed). They
both decide that a physical relationship is perhaps the best thing for
both of them: Besides, Jamie has his sights set on a big sales gig in
Chicago and Maggie, a woman that will only get sicker with time, wants no
long-term emotional entanglements. They
both are content with just getting laid….a lot.
ensue when Jack begins to find it difficult to internalize his feelings
for Maggie the more time he spends with her.
It becomes even more problematical when he finds himself becoming
one of the primary salesmen of a new "it" drug of choice for
erectile dysfunction called Viagra, which may be his ticket to the big
leagues of pharmaceutical sales. However,
the more he shares his life with Maggie the more puerile and valueless his
vocation begins to seem to him. Although
Maggie reciprocates love and affection back, she remains curiously guarded
from him in the sense that she uses her disease as a barrier against
forming life-long ties with men.
is really fundamentally interesting about LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is that it
never sensationalizes Maggie’s disease for schmaltzy effect.
The film manages to hold Parkinson sufferers with a considerable
amount of respect and one of the most memorable and touching scenes
involves Maggie attending a seminar where those afflicted use humor,
compassion with each other, and dignity to combat the disease. Another frank and revealing moment occurs between Jamie and another
man who is a husband to a woman with Parkinson; without hesitation, he
tells Jamie to find another soul mate as quickly as possible so he does
waste his life caring for every need of Maggie, who will get worse. The central quandary of Jamie is that he begins to not only
struggle with the inconsequentiality of his job, but also with what it will
mean to spend his life with a woman that makes him feel complete, but will
nonetheless become more frail with every year.
Maggie, on the other hand, needs to combat her own stubborn
internal drives that hamper her long-term willingness to be a soul mate to
flaws of the lovers in question make LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS ring more truly
and tenderly than most romcoms. These
are not perfect people cut from the lamentably sanitized PG-13
sitcom-styled romcoms that are a dime-a-dozen these days: Maggie and Jamie
are handled with a maturity and thoughtfulness, so much so that their
dicey path towards everlasting love begins to feel that much more palpable
and relatable. The film
becomes a tale of personal growth and shared acceptance and how painfully
complicated it becomes for both Jamie and Maggie to allow each other into
their lives. They both, in
simple ways, have to learn how to love when their sexual
relationship morphs into something more meaningful.
Hathaway plays her role with such a disquieting grace,
intelligence, and warmth, but Gyllenhaal perhaps has the trickiest arc
because his character traverses across the largest transformation: he goes
from a cocky and arrogant womanizer to a humble, caring, and selfless
suitor to Maggie who respects and wants to help with her needs.
AND OTHER DRUGS is not a perfect picture: the satirical jabs at the drug
industry and the guerrilla tactics they employ to sell their product is
not as incisively crafted as it could have been, not to mention that, in
the end, the film does not in any way require itself to be set in the
1990’s or concern itself about Viagra at all, the latter element which
seems to be ostensibly used to set up some crude jokes and a very
conventional gag involving the notorious side-effects of taking the drug.
There is also a side character of Jamie’s younger brother, played
by Josh Gad, that seems to be superficially inserted into the film for the
purposes of lewd comic relief…and not much else.
He contributes very little to the larger scheme of the story of
Jamie and Maggie’s personal struggles.
alas, are nitpicks, because LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is one of the most
refreshingly adult romcoms released this year, and by adult I mean
two things: Firstly, the film has a gutsy bravado and displays none of the
inhibitions of typical studio films whatsoever when it comes to its
unusually audacious and graphic sex scenes and nudity (the two stars are
shed vanity and timidity when it comes to revealing copious amounts of
flesh, which gives the film a fly-on-the-wall spontaneity, immediacy, and
stark intimacy with dealing with
their relationship). Secondly,
Zwick's film just feels more mature in the essence that it does away with
lame contrivances and clichés that permeate so many forgettable romcoms.
Yes, the film ends conventionally and follows many of the genre’s
basic conventions, but LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS overcomes them by being an
uncommonly illuminating and engaging exploration into how people learn to
triumph over personal obstacles on the passageway to self-acceptance and
mutual adoration. With so many infantile-minded youth-centric love stories, I
appreciated how this one was crafted for viewers well beyond puberty.