Movie Review: Love and Other Drugs
The Charlotte Observer
Exactly 40 years ago next month, Hollywood realized that beautiful girls with debilitating diseases – not one that made them unbeautiful, of course – were financial bonanzas. Of course, “Love Story” had the guts to kill off its heroine; “Love and Other Drugs” merely sticks a toe into the icy waters of pessimism, then snatches it back. I make no predictions about its success.
“Drugs” wants to be many things: a biting satire of shabby medical practices and Big Pharma’s greed, a redemptive tale about a lazy but intelligent man who learns money isn’t everything, a slapstick comedy full of erection jokes, a tender narrative about the relationship of that empty-hearted young hustler and the woman to whom he finally commits. Ultimately, it’s a clunky mash-up of laughter and tears that doesn’t yield enough of either.
Director Ed Zwick wrote the script with Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, adapting Jamie Ready’s novel “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” (haw haw).
Protagonist Jamie Randolph (Jake Gyllenhaal) disappoints his parents by dropping out of college, failing at multiple jobs and having sex with more women than he bothers to remember. He discovers in 1996 that he’s good at one thing: schmoozing his way into medical offices to push Zoloft for the Pfizer Co. When Viagra comes out and becomes a best-seller, Jamie plans to ride sales success to a high-paying job as Pfizer’s Chicago agent.
Along the way, he meets funky Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a free spirit who seems to be some kind of artist – we see her cutting up photographs – who carries senior citizens on bus trips to Canada to buy reduced-price meds. She’s in the first stage of Parkinson’s, and her fear that she will eventually become dependent on a man causes her to have lots of casual sex but to refuse attachments. Empty guy + thorny girl = love.
The film starts in “Thank You For Smoking” territory, as a savage attack on everyone associated with the drug industry. Jamie steals and lies; receptionists sleep with reps and do them favors; doctors accept bribes and push drugs on patients, realizing they’ll do little good and may do harm. Pfizer knowingly sells medications that increase the likelihood of teen suicide and then suppresses test results. (What was Pfizer thinking when it agreed to product placement in this movie? Next: Toyota brings you “Crash: The Sequel.”)
After half an hour, though, the movie loses its nerve. Josh, Jamie’s fat and greasy brother – who is a millionaire – moves in with him for comic relief and gibbers incessantly about sex. (This clod, played by Josh Gad, may be 2010’s most repellant film character.) Meanwhile, Maggie takes the first steps on a rough physical journey.
The movie makes stabs at honesty: The great actor Peter Friedman gets one speech in which he tells Jamie that caring for a patient with advanced Parkinson’s brings sadness he can’t imagine. (The movie similarly wastes George Segal and Jill Clayburgh, who get one dull scene as Jamie’s parents.)
Yet the spine is mostly gone. Even a contemptibly philandering and dishonest doctor (Hank Azaria) gets a sympathetic monologue about the woes of practicing medicine. We’re only a step away from a scene in which we’re asked to feel sorry for Jamie’s cheesy, immoral mentor (Oliver Platt) – and sure enough, it arrives.
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway exert considerable powers of hangdog charm and fierce independence, trying to give firm shape to the saggy script. But if you want to watch these two struggle through an up-and-down screen relationship, rent “Brokeback Mountain.”