‘Love and Other Drugs’ Feels Like a Cheap Sell

I actually went into Love and Other Drugs with an open mind. Er, more of an open mind than I normally would with this sort of movie. After viewing the trailer, I didn’t think much of it, or even care about seeing it. But then I guess it was purely Andrew O’Hehir’s review on Salon – teased as “Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s surprisingly good comedy” – that got me curious. Point being: I was open to it being good. Now having seen it, I should have known I couldn’t enjoy a film which, in a sentence, tries entirely too hard to be the next Jerry Maguire-meets-well, any movie where the girl of the boy-meets-girl has a terminal illness. I wish it didn’t have to be that frank, but it is.

Starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, thirtysomething), I expected it to be a romantic comedy that proved a little more exceptional than the others. But from what I saw, this doesn’t have the makings of a classic or a “generation definer.” The plot: Set in 1996, Jamie Randall (Gylleenhaal) is a rising Pfizer pharmaceutical sales rep who uses his “way” with women to help him rep Zoloft in doctor’s offices when he meets Maggie (Hathaway) in one said doctor’s office. The very first thing we learn about Maggie is that she has onset Parkinson’s. In short – she hates him, he lusts after her, they have sex, they try to keep having sex without attachment, they fail, they fall in love. What follows are mostly bad humming music as soundtrack, montages, cheap jokes, sex, nudity, tears, and more montages.  Oh, and also, his gross younger brother comes to live with him and is poised as “comic relief,” which makes for more awkward and drawn-out than comical scenes.

While most of the big reviews I read were less than favorable, they all seem to find some kind of “bright side” for the movie: Ebert thinks Zwick did the best he could with a bad script; most, including New York Times’ A.O. Scott, believe Hathaway did more with the character than the script called for; and Variety‘s Justin Chang says it sorta kinda works “if one can get past the calculation inherent in the drug-pushing-boy-meets-disease-stricken-girl setup.”

Maybe they’re all just a little bit more optimistic than I am, but I can’t even give the film that much credit. My bright side? Uh…Judy Greer was pretty funny? (As a receptionist Gylleenhaal seduced and then left in the dust.) And…honestly, not much else is coming to mind. Since the movie is so blunt, I feel no need to use pretty words or phrasing here: Love and Other Drugs is a bi-polar movie that can’t decide if it’s about casual sex, the evils of the pharmaceutical sales industry, or Parkinson’s. Can all of these be combined into one movie? Sure! If done correctly (see: not the way it was done here.) This film makes me wish there was another word not as overused as “formulaic,” but it really fits in this instance.

There’s no real development or investment in any of the characters. This is a true shame, honestly, given the two wonderful actors at the film’s disposal. Both the main characters feel conflicted because they have their own set of commitment issues. “Commitment issues” is just a phrase slapped onto the movie – not a lot of explanation or history required, just take it as it is. They have trouble committing but then they try to commit to one another. The whole story feels like one big cheap sell for the tearjerker ending (the ending that aches to be the next Jerry Maguire-scale ending), which then makes the Parkinson’s disease element feel more insulting and tasteless – as if it was just thrown into the pot for one big grand finale tasting.

I think Love and Others Drugs‘ biggest downfall is that it doesn’t live up to its own image of itself. It’s not as sexy, not as daring, certainly not as funny, and not as moving and deep as it seems to think it is. You know the one thing I took away from this movie? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. Everywhere sex. (And mostly in montages also.) Oh, and the throwing around of the word “pussy” by men whenever the film needed that extra oomph of “edginess.” All of that nudity and sexuality, and for what? Two undeveloped characters and a poorly thought-out story. No, it does not feel liberating or refreshing. I know it tried really hard, but in the end, Love and Other Drugs isn’t just a film about the complications of supposedly empty sex; it is empty sex.