Love and Other Drugs
Romantic comedies have been a staple of the entertainment in all its varied forms from the paperback novels many read at the beach to the movies that are seen during date night all over the world. Traditionally these movies are the best vehicles to promote an actress as ‘America’s Sweetheart’. Actresses attaining this distinction from Doris Day to Sandra Bullock are seen by the audience as the epitome of American values. Of course when Ms Day held the title television and movies couldn’t depict a married couple sharing the same bed. They either had to keep one foot firmly planted on the floor or resort to twin beds. In such an environment the very concept of overt nudity or sexuality was unheard of. The writers of romantic comedies of that day had to change some of the primary elements of the genre creating the sexual farce. This was the land of the double entendre resulting in some highly entertaining albeit slightly naughty writing. This was the fun part of watching this kind of movie and made for highly enjoyable flicks. Now in this age of the internet, cable television and a generally more permissive social attitude such limitations are not only no longer necessary but if they were employed the results would be seen as incredulous. These new liberal attitudes were not universally welcomed but they did pave the way to more risqué, adult situations. ‘Love and Other Drugs’ is a film that garnered a fair amount of attention for containing such material. This movie does feature a former Princess appearing in the buff which unfortunately clouds the fact that this is a funny movie worth seeing for a more mature demographic. When a film contains some scenes of a sensationalistic fashion gets all the press packing the theater with teenage boys there for strictly puerile reasons. This has the tendency to cloak the cinematic quality of a film and in this case has colored the public opinion of its overall worth. The film was light hearted fun, a romp through the sexual game between men and women that has been played throughout history. While I miss the urbane banter that exemplified the romantic comedies of the past this movie managed to hold together better than I had thought.
Like so many movies this one was written by committee. The positive side here is the various contributors to the screenplay seem to have blended their individual preferences together well enough since the final product came across as a cohesive, well constructed story. This was a pleasant surprise considering so many movies that take s full screen of writer credits appear to be a patchwork quilt unable to maintain a strong central narrative. The principle authors collected here had a strangely diverse set of backgrounds come in to this work. In contrast Edward Zwick had a resume that focused on action oriented stories including ‘The Last Samurai’ and ‘The Siege. This is an exceptionally varied background that worked in harmony extremely well in this case. One thing is certain; this is definitely not the ‘cute’ kind of flicks we have become accustomed to for years. There is sufficient edge to the humor to make the movie fun. What has been lost in too many of the recent batch of rom-coms is the ability to allow the audience to share in the chemistry developed between the principle characters. Here you have a pair of talent actors who are well versed in their crafts obviously having fun getting into their roles. The one factor that potentially mars the story is, unfortunately inherent in the premise. Serving as the backdrop and the character motivation is the pharmaceutical industry, specifically the growing use, no pun intended, to the growing use of pharmacological enhancements to sexual relations. The sharp, often funny aspect of this is juxtaposing relations with relationships but all too often this is overshadowed by commentary on the industry. It might have worked out beneficially if the industry could be relegated more to the back ground but that would have slashed the entire premise. Alas too many people seem to expect a satire of commentary on the evils of ‘big but that only distracts from the very human love story that exists as the heart of the film.
Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) was born to be a salesman. He had the natural gifts inherent in his personality that made selling thing to people come as easily as breathing. His broad smile and affable persona people tended to like Jamie which made his life easier for the most part. His easy going manner did get him in trouble such as seen in the onset of the film where he is fired from his job as a salesman not for lack of salesmanship but for having sex with the bosses’ wife. This was just another in a long line of disappoints Jamie inflected on his family. His carefree manner is great for getting along with people but not fully conducive toward more serious endeavors. His family is successful with medicine as the family business. His Brother, Josh (Josh Gad) is a doctor following the tradition while Jamie dropped out of medical school. Josh pulls some strings getting Jamie a position with Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical firm. The year is 1996 and they are promoting a new line of drugs including Viagra. Jamie’s more immediate concern is his current assignment; getting doctors to switch to prescribing Zoloft and Zithromax. Jamie’s unscrupulous partner Bruce (Oliver Platt) sees Jamies’ ability as their way into much bigger things. While on his rounds Jamie crosses paths with a young woman, Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway). She is a free spirit, living in the moment particularly because she has early onset Parkinson's disease. Such a diagnosis looming over her gives her life a sense of immediacy. After a very unethical breast exam on the part of Jamie the couple are soon rutting away like animals in heat. Maggie is satisfied with a casual relationship but Jamie wants a more emotionally involved relationship.
There are a number of factors adding to the pleasant surprise that is this film. First of all Gyllenhaal and Hathaway previously worked together on ‘Broke Back Mountain’ and display an ease working with each other. Director Edward Zwick makes good use of this chemistry building the story around it. Another departure from the typical rom com is the disruption of the normal three act flow. Instead of all events leading to the culminating act the characters here get that out of the way rather quickly. This leaves the remainder of the time to craft a more emotionally involved story. Overall the film excels because of this fresh approach.