Set during the '90s pharmaceutical boom, Love & Other Drugs is a rare romantic comedy that bucks convention by placing bawdy humor amid a serious depiction of the strains an illness puts on a romantic relationship. Although Director Edward Zwick's film occasionally struggles to find a cohesive tone, leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway interact like old friends, and Love & Other Drugs turns out to be a much-needed deviation from Hollywood's recycled romantic comedies.
Underachieving lothario Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) ditches medical school to become a drug rep for Pfizer on advice that the job affords even amateurs a six-figure salary. Jamie is no stranger to a hard sell, whether it's pricey stereo equipment or stockroom sex with a customer, but he underestimates the drug-peddling competition and has to convince a cranky doctor (Hank Azaria) to prescribe Zoloft instead of Prozac. During this extended sales pitch, Jamie stumbles into an examination and meets Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), a 26-year-old with early-onset Parkinson's disease. What Maggie lacks in self-pity she makes up for in sass, and Maggie insists on sticking to sex and avoiding words like "commitment" and "girlfriend."
Based on non-fiction book Hard Sell: Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy, Love & Other Drugs portrays a drug industry so high on its own success with drugs like Viagra and Zoloft that it virtually dismisses the millions of over-medicated Americans while allowing Jamie to shower doctors with Pfizer swag and samples. This pomp and circumstance has a price for consumers, and Maggie must travel by bus to Canada with a group of senior citizens to afford her medications. When her prescriptions run out, Maggie feels the brunt of her disease's side effects, which include an intense resting tremor that makes it impossible for her to paint.
Director Zwick, better known for sweeping dramas like Glory and The Last Samurai than romantic comedies, keeps the film moving at a pleasant pace, but leaves most of the intense emotional fallout for the back nine. What starts out like a slightly more mature Judd Apatow comedy quickly becomes something more when Maggie refuses to allow Jamie any self-gratification for loving "the sick girl." Viewers should know by now that Maggie's prickly exterior hides an inner turmoil, but that revelation is not as cliché as it first appears. What Maggie wants more than to be happy is to avoid becoming someone's burden. In one emotional scene, Maggie howls in agony after breaking a glass she is unable to grip. It is in such moments that the threat of a lifetime of hardship for Maggie is best articulated.
Love & Other Drugs does not so much crossfade from comedy to drama as it does create a head-on collision between the two. This results in a strange middle with abrupt shifts in tone and narrative focus. The film regains its footing as it nears its conclusion, which is not entirely forecasted due to Jamie's late-game encounter with the husband of an advanced Parkinson's patient. The film could have used a little trimming at 112 minutes, but few scenes stand out as throw-aways.
Parts of Love & Other Drugs are very funny, such as a recurring joke about a homeless man taking drug samples that Jamie throws away. Other parts, such as the inevitable scene disguising Viagra's side effects as comedy, are less amusing. Some of the drama hits pretty hard, and the lead performances really sell the action. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway received a lot of press for the amount of sex and nudity in the film, but none of it struck me as particularly excessive. What's clear is that the pair works very well together, and the chemistry is certainly there. Zwick did a great job casting the supporting roles, too. Azaria is enjoyable, as are Oliver Platt as Jamie's sales partner and Judy Greer as a doctor's office employee.
I am not usually a fan of romantic comedies, but I did enjoy Love & Other Drugs. Labeling the film a romantic comedy is accurate, but it's more of a "dramatic and humorous romance." It's nice to see the characters in said genre worrying about more than their hair or stepping in dog crap. Love & Other Drugs is sufficiently better than most modern relationship dramas.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
Fox's screening disc for Love & Other Drugs does not include the final video transfer or soundtrack, therefore I cannot review these aspects of the disc. If a retail version becomes available to me in the future, I will update my review accordingly. That said, the screening disc looks and sounds great, so I imagine the retail version will be technically solid.
Fox includes a couple of nice extras for the film. First up are some interesting deleted scenes (7:21), which include a huge fight between Maggie and Jamie and a scene where Jamie's sales partner has a heart attack. Love & Other Drugs: An Actor's Discussion (8:01) is a piece where the two leads talk about their characters and the film. Beautifully Complex: Anne Hathaway is Maggie (2:58) and Reformed Womanizer: Jake Gyllenhaal is Jamie (3:36) further explore the lead characters. Selling Love & Other Drugs (3:12) is a brief piece featuring the author of the book upon which the film is based. The film's theatrical trailer and some bonus previews round out the extras.
Pairing a drug rep with a patient who relies on heavy doses of prescription medication to maintain her quality of life may not seem like particularly good fodder for a romantic comedy, but it works in Love & Other Drugs. Director Edward Zwick's blend of sharp comedy and raw emotion works more often than not, and leads Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway deftly volley the drama between one another. A somewhat uneven tone never threatens to sink this entertaining film. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.