A rom-com on performance-enhancing drugs
Love and Other Drugs is being promoted as a sexy romantic comedy, and it makes good on that promise. But it also has several other movies, or parts of them, rattling around in it.
In the early going, it’s a screwball romance between two smart, fast-talking, hyper-energetic characters—go-getter pharmaceutical salesman Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) and spunky artist Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway). But even before those two first meet up, the movie is dabbling in satire—on sexed-up salesmanship and commercialism in the pharmaceutical industry.
And soon after its lovers hook up, the film also takes on a potentially disruptive element of medical melodrama—Maggie the freewheeling artist is beset with Parkinson’s disease. Plus, the setting is the mid-1990s, which in this case means that instant millionaires and the advent of Viagra become part of the story as well.
The various shifts of direction and tone are mildly disconcerting, but they also become part of what is unusual and intriguing in this brisk little film. And it helps a lot that Gyllenhaal and Hathaway bring goodly amounts of exuberance and conviction to the peculiar mixtures of irony and romance concocted here by filmmaker Edward Zwick (Glory, Defiance, Blood Diamond).
Both stars have quirky sorts of attractiveness, and they are thus well-suited to, and well-served by, the zigzaggedly eclectic script (written by Charles Randolph, Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and based in part on the 2005 book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy). Gyllenhaal’s wily geniality and boyish charm are a nice fit for the movie’s Jamie, a self-hyping wheeler dealer who might be capable of much better things. And Hathaway, whose glamour registers as simultaneously fragile and ideal, seems fully at home with a character whose boldness and daring are inseparable from deep-seated caution and sorrow.
The most noteworthy secondary characters—Jamie’s bumptious supervisor (Oliver Platt), a sex-crazed physician (Hank Azaria), the buffoonish tech-bubble millionaire who is Jamie’s younger brother Josh (Josh Gad)—make lively contributions to the film’s unstable mixes of comedy, satire and sex farce. Judy Greer has a nice bit as a star-struck receptionist, and George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh (as the Randall boys’ parents) bring apposite touches of gravitas and whimsy to the scene of a rare family gathering.
In synopsis, Zwick’s film may sound rather over-calculated, especially with those mixtures of entertainment and topicality that might seem a little patronizing. In the actual playing-out, however, the film makes a virtue of its dramatic rough edges—by leaving them fully in view, instead of trying to smooth them over into a single easily digested package.