By Scott Martin
Love and Other Drugs,USA, 2010
Directed by Edward Zwick
The most comforting thing about director Edward Zwick’s new foray into the rom-com world is that we can be pretty sure he won’t be doing it again. Love and Other Drugs was far from a success, and it’s understandable why. Think back to Sweet November (2001), Autumn in New York (2000), Stepmom (1998), or even Love Story (1970). You remember how banal those films were? This really isn’t any better. That isn’t to say that the film is without merit, or not at all enjoyable. It has merit, and it’s a ridiculously easy watch. It’s medicine that goes down smooth, but never gets to the symptoms.
Of course, it’s based on a memoir, Jamie Reidy’s Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, so when I go back and think about the film, I have to constantly remind, or maybe convince, myself that these are real people. This happened, for what it’s worth, probably not in the way the film presents it, but so rarely is that ever the case. In any event, these things are true – there was a Viagra salesman who met a woman with Parkinson’s Disease and they fell in love. Also, and the film never lets us forget it, Jerry Maguire (1996) was released around this time; Jake Gyllenhaal’s constant costume of blazers, plain tee, and Raybans suggest that’s all Jamie had in his closet. Gyllenhaal is surrounded by a mostly fine supporting cast; Hank Azaria surprised me by how much pathos was injected into his character and Oliver Platt’s small role just furthers my argument that he should be in every movie ever made. Gyllenhaal’s magnetic charm and understanding of his character drew me in from the very first scene. He’s a natural born salesman; not Jamie, but Jake. He’s one of those actors who could read the phone book and keep me captivated for hours. Match that with Anne Hathaway’s overt sexiness and undeniable wit as Maggie, our terminal love interest, and we have a match made in Hollywood heaven. But match all of that with a screenplay pumped out from a “funny romantic comedy moments” generator, and that’s where our movie starts to fail. Its pacing and slick editing make this all too watchable, but the heart of the film didn’t beat for me. Not once.
A particular example is one scene, though it had no business being in the movie, in which Jamie is at a Parkinson’s “un-convention” and he meets the husband of a Stage Four survivor. He asks for advice, and the man coldly replies, “Run.” It’s an expertly crafted scene, but it just doesn’t flow with the film around it. Most of the song cues are well handled, as are the more light-hearted moments; I think my problem with the film really just comes down to its jarring shifts in tone.
Hathaway’s performance, however, is truly something special, and were she given a better script, she would have been all over this awards season, triumphing. She’s earthy, compulsive and, most importantly, tangible. It’s the kind of performance you can feel in your bones, believable from her first scene until her beautifully realized final moments. Her performance is extremely controlled, but it never feels like she’s playing it safe. She displayed this sort of talent in her other film with Gyllenhaal, Brokeback Mountain (2005) and Rachel Getting Married (2008), and she only furthers it here.
The most important thing to remember about Love and Other Drugs is that, first and foremost, it’s respectful of the illness it portrays. The only time it is played for laughs is during the Parkinson’s convention that Maggie attends, and here actual survivors speak and tell jokes; otherwise it’s treated with an appropriate somberness, but done in such a way that the film doesn’t lose its lightheartedness. Zwick’s a talented director, and I’ll certainly see his next departure, but here, I think, there was just too much on his plate, and he didn’t have the screenplay to support him.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com