Love and Other Drugs
Dir: Edward Zwick
Before its transformation into a glossy, formulaic, star-studded “romcom” (such a despicable term), the idea behind Love and Other Drugs was an inside look at pharmaceutical sales, penned by real-life rep Jamie Reidy and entitled Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Told from the perspective of a not-necessarily-repentant serial charmer and intended to expose the profit-driven machinations of America’s biggest drug companies, the book had obvious movie potential. Imagine, if you will, an inside look at the pharma companies from the perspective of a man who played the game, knew it was unethical, exposed the truth…and then took another job as a rep. It’d be different, unexpected, a great white-collar (or in this case, white-coat) con; it could have been done well.
But it wasn’t. Instead, the studios decided that the Viagra story wasn’t good enough on its own (that’s right, even sex needs a boost to build interest these days). Reidy’s tale needed romance, ridiculous hurdles and redemption to draw box office numbers – and so they pumped it full of their own little blue pills, inflated it to fit the formula and now hope to claim two hours of our lives with yet another lovelorn yarn that ultimately fails to satisfy.
This, as far as many of us are concerned, is bad enough. But I’m not going to waste time ripping into the romcom model: I may not like it, but I’ll also admit that studio reliance on a formula that brings hankie-and-husband-totting ladies to the theater in droves is no crime. There’s a reason why the formula works, why it sells and why Hollywood churns out new(ish) versions of the same damn thing over and over again. Plenty of us love to see a cad cut down by a woman he can’t have, or a free-spirit convinced to abandon defenses and commit. It happens, after all — and for those to whom it hasn’t happened yet, a little vicarious living via Anne Hathaway’s stunning body and enviably luminous eyes may be just the thing to assuage discontent for an hour or two. No, the repetition of romantic tropes may be boring, but it isn’t offensive. What is reprehensible, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, is the utterly inappropriate use of an incurable disease to make an otherwise fluffy plot-line “challenging” – and a contrived happy ending that negates any authenticity the film may have achieved.
As Jamie, Jake Gyllenhaal charms the pants off more than a few ladies (and gents, come to think of it – there are a lot of gratuitous booties in this film) as a salesman for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. He stops dead in his tracks, though, when an artsy, stunning spitfire of a young Parkinson’s patient named Maggie (Hathaway) looks deep into his soul, calls him out on his bullshit, screws him silly and then kicks him unceremoniously out of her perfectly disheveled apartment. From then on, it’s only a matter of time before love sets in, together with complications like ethics, insecurity and selflessness that ultimately triumph over Jamie and Maggie’s respective fears and foibles and allow them to find hope and strength in their love for one another.
If only we believed them.
The responsibility for our doubts doesn’t lie with either Gyllenhaal or Hathaway, who play their roles with skill and earnest passion. Gyllenhaal does his damndest to show Jamie’s transformation from bonafide “shithead” (as Maggie likes to call him) to decent, caring dude, and any doubts we may harbor are due more to the story itself than to Gyllenhaal’s efforts to tell it. Hathaway, meanwhile, plays Maggie with an evident sensitivity to the plight of Parkinson’s patients; her performance is touching, and could even be inspirational for some. But it also begs the question: why does Maggie have Parkinson’s disease in the first place? Why make that up, and why add it to this particular story?
Romantic redemption doesn’t suit Jamie’s character in the slightest — but a love-story will broaden box office appeal, and of course the studio goes ahead with it. So it goes. Still, where is the justification for making it a semi-tragic love story, peppered with the haunting realities of advanced Parkinson’s (like those brutally expressed by a caretaker who warns Jamie that the disease will “take everything he loves” about Maggie)? Awkwardly dropped into what should by all rights be a comedy — replete with racy nudes scenes, Viagra jokes and plenty of drama already in the form of Pfizer’s mercenary sales tactics — the Parkinson’s storyline gets short, insufficient and inappropriate treatment. Sure, it’ll bring a tear to your eye, but it will also make you wonder how someone affected by the disease might feel sitting in the audience, seeing their experience spliced in as a subplot alongside priapism gags. After the first hour or so, Love and Other Drugs feels like that thoughtless guy who tries to sound important by spouting off on serious, sensitive issues he knows nothing about in the midst of some rote, raunchy bar banter: mildly offensive, uncertain of its own intentions beyond the need to draw an audience, vaguely charming in parts but ultimately not worth your time.
by Lauren Westerfield