Best known for films like Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond, director Edward Zwick tackles somewhat lighter subject matter in Love and Other Drugs. Ostensibly a romantic comedy (and it does have many of those elements), the film manages to eschew the stale atmosphere of the genre and instead becomes a highly watchable tale of a relationship between a high-end pharmaceutical rep and a woman with a case of early-onset Parkinson’s disease.
Set in the medicinal boom of the mid-to-late nineties, the movie keeps with music from that period and opens with “Two Princes” by The Spin Doctors – a song (and band) of which I’m an unabashed fan to this day – so for me, this was the best opening to a movie since Yes Man, which opened with Journey’s “Separate Ways.” But back to the movie…
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a fast-talking stud who could sell ice to an Eskimo (is that politically incorrect?) and is just as efficient as a womanizer as he is as a salesman. He has smarmy confidence down to a science here – he channels Tom Cruise’s ’80s persona and convincingly pulls it off. Jamie has his career on the brain, moving his way from an electronics salesman to the upper echelon of Pfizer reps as Viagra hits the mainstream market.
While trying to convince a doctor (played by Hank Azaria) to prescribe his company’s drugs, Jamie meets the bold and beautiful Maggie Murdock, a character who provides a wonderful change of pace for the talented and underrated Anne Hathaway. Sure, Maggie is sick – but that doesn’t mean she’s feeble. In fact, she’s more brazen than the sex-crazed Jamie; she sees through his tactics and is totally up front with him about her intentions, avoiding the typical tropes of playing hard to get. Later, she is the one who resists a meaningful relationship. Maggie’s illness pops up occasionally in the movie, but it doesn’t define her character and Hathaway handles that aspect of her performance with tact and grace.
The thing that struck me most about this movie? Love and Other Drugs (like this year’s Going the Distance) seemed to depict a more natural relationship than what we’re used to seeing on screen. Part of this is surely due to the nudity fearlessly displayed by both leads, a rarity in a studio film thanks to the inexplicable ratings methods of the MPAA, whose members consider nudity more harmful than violence these days. Aside from that, the film captures the little moments really well; in a musical montage, a scene with Maggie and Jamie in a library plays out wordlessly but comes off as totally believable. Hathaway has some highly emotional moments in the script and commits to the role so well that we feel her pain. Late in the film, Jamie is involved in a tryst with other women where, in a lesser movie, Maggie would walk in and discover him. In this film, though, the consequences of that action are left only to Jamie’s conscience and are never mentioned again.
Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many elements of the romantic comedy featured here. Nearly every member of the supporting cast – Josh Gad as Jamie’s overweight and sex-obsessed brother, Oliver Platt’s mentor figure, Judy Greer’s receptionist – is a rom-com standard, but their presence is thankfully overshadowed by the chemistry between the impossibly good-looking couple of Gyllenhaal and Hathaway. As the film progresses, it becomes clear what type of movie this is going to be and the elements start falling into place: The Separation, The Desperate Act To Win Her Back, The Final Impassioned Speech. But even with those check-the-box components, Love and Other Drugs somehow sneaks just above the eye-rolling quality of most of the movies in this genre.
If you haven’t deduced this by now, this movie is definitely not one to watch with the family. Awkward situations of all kinds abound – mostly in scenes with Jamie’s brother – but for those searching for a romance with more drama than outright comedy, this might be in your wheelhouse. As I said before, the movie is highly watchable; I’d take Love and Other Drugs over The Proposal any day. Until next time…