Ah, the romantic comedy. It seems like it should be simple, telling a cute, funny, and perhaps somewhat sexy story about two people who meet and fall in love. Unfortunately, the need for a story to have a conflict is at odds with the need for on-screen romance to be "True love", forcing screenwriters to contrive some obstacle or misunderstanding that, for a moment, challenges the prospect of "happily ever after". Love and Other Drugs thinks big: the obstacle in question is a physical disability, adding another strain of emotion to the mix, but the film is lazy, slapping the two ideas together like a hastily made sandwich and hoping the results will taste good.
Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) has plenty of luck with the ladies and not so much luck in using said luck to somehow build a grown-up life. Fired from his job at a cruddy electronics shop, he finds an "in" to the pharmaceutical sales rep industry, where his sleazy pitchman skills have a bit of weight. During one of his pitches, he encounters Maggie (Anne Hathway), a free-spirited artist who is already diagnosed with Parkinson's disorder. The two begin a relationship solely for the sex -- and there is plenty -- but soon find themselves at the precipice of something more significant. While Jamie juggles a brand new contract (the film is a period piece, allowing Jamie's career to skyrocket with the invention of Viagra), his relationship, and his understanding of Maggie's condition, Maggie's instincts to flee start to kick in.
The movie is a mess. There's a sensation of "we'll make it work" hanging over each awkward piece of the puzzle, as if a bunch of pitches collided in a room and someone tried to salvage their Christmas bonus by pretending it was a complete package. There might be a lesson of responsibility awkwardly stuffed between Jamie's glib hook-ups and Maggie's bad days, but it's not tangible enough to motivate a significant part of the story. Hathway, meanwhile, invests in Maggie like she's going for an Oscar rather than tugging at the heartstrings, giving an oddly mirthless performance in what seems like it was meant to be a fun, sexy time for everyone (the rumors are true: she's de-robed in a good 40% of her screen time). Add in the Viagra subplot, with Oliver Platt and his disappearing promotion, Jamie's friendship with a doctor (played by Hank Azaria), and, awkwardest of all, Jamie's fat, angry brother Josh (Josh Gad), and you have a serious traffic jam of elements, pulling in different directions.
Standing at the center without an apparent care in the world is director Edward Zwick, the guy who gave the world Glory and The Last Samaurai. It's interesting he's decided to step out of his usual territory, but he's got a tin ear for the material, ultimately going all-out on the physical disability, making the project more "movie of the week" than charismatic lark. In another, better concoction involving just Hathaway and the Parkinson's subplot, with more time to develop and focus on it, there might've been a compelling little drama about how much one is willing to sacrifice for another when the future promises endless "assisted living" needs, and maybe that's a movie that would've lent Zwick's vision more focus. Sadly, the viewer is left without any real grasp on whether Zwick knows or cares, as he lets the picture swing lazily from unconnected beat to unconnected beat.
I'm sure people just want to live vicariously. Either the characters in a romantic comedy are a brief escape from singlehood or a standard to nudge a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife about. For the most part, Love and Other Drugs is a watchable attempt at a drama, or something to that effect, but it robs the audience of that simple pleasure: are you the glib, fast-talking salesman or the afflicted, occasionally irrational disabled girl, and will you ride off into a bittersweet sunset with the other? Unless, for some reason, that sounds like a choice you and/or your significant other wants to make, self-medicate with a book instead.
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