"An Hour or Two of Relief From Being You"
"Life is Pain, Princess. Anyone Telling you Different is Selling You Something"
Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz—the boys who brought "thirtysomething" to television many dances-by-the-light-of-the-moon ago—have put together (along with co-scenarist Charles Randolph) this adaptation of Jamie Reidy's book from tell-all to rom-com with a bit of a twist: taking Mary Poppins' advice that "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down," Herskowitz and Zwick use the opportunity to educate a bit about the selling and hooking practices of pharmaceutical companies under the guise of watching Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway cavort semi-nakedly through a noncomittal sexual relationship. At the same time, they try to inject a message about the pervasiveness of an over-the-top over-the-table drug culture, while also adding to the cocktail by venturing into rom-com territory about commitment and weightier problems than merely Twittering properly, or not being so damned selfish (well, actually, there's a lot of that) that it might actually fool you into thinking it's an adult romance. Symptomatic of too many script-doctors in the room, Love and Other Drugs is one over-prescribed movie, with far too many complications to be healthy.
Author Reidy's composite character is Jamie Russell (Gyllenhall), a privileged, entitled son of a well-to-do upper-class family of doctors (headed by George Segal and Jill Clayburgh—her second-to-last role). Russell was going through medical school, but dropped out, because he was bored (he was diagnosed early with ADD—a Ritalin child) and he didn't want to live up to parental expectations. He transitions from being a randy electronics salesman (he is...not the electronics) to a randy pharmaceutical salesman for Pfizer, a natural fit as the seduction of doctors begins as foreplay with the receptionists and nurses. He's a rep for zoloft, which Pfizer is hoping with cut into the considerable market-share of that penny-candy of anti-depressants, prozac. While sweet-talking a Doc (Hank Azaria) on his rounds "posing" as an internist, he sits in on an appointment with Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), a self-described "drug-slut" not without reason—she's 26 and in the first stages of Parkinson's. Rom-com's have a way of "meeting cute" and here it's that Maggie has a mark on her breast that she wants examined, only to discover that the internist in the examining room is doing too much examining. She clobbers him with her bag out in the parking lot when she finds out.
Somehow this turns into a relationship, heavy on the sex, and light on the commitment—she's just out of relationship with a married pharmaceutical rep (quite the coincidence) who just happens to be Russell's chief competitor (QUITE the coincidence!), while he's concentrating on fast-tracking his career. All well and good, but what starts out clinical and cynical, soon turns sorrowful and needy. Then, just when you think the movie has settled down to puzzle out the relationship, the game changes again with the introduction of Viagra to Pfizer's list of drug-pushing material. As it was in the pharmaceutical trade, it's a game changer for Love and Other Drugs.
Russell's not the only one with ADD, this movie is showing symptoms (that is, if it would stay consistent for 15 minutes!).
In its attempt to be a cure-all for all movie-goers (remain faithful to the book, but inject a romance:* hit the book's highlights, but try to maintain a storyline), it soon turns into one of those situations where the movie tries to cure its own side effects, rather than what's wrong at the source. It's competent in every way, and Gyllenhaal does yeoman's work trying to keep his character likable while being predatory, venal, and wildly inconsistent in behavior, while Hathaway, she of the big doe-eyes—seemingly always caught in the headlights**—gains sympathy even when she's flaunting the victim card in a variety of diverse and contradictory ways.
The film tries so hard to entertain everybody, but it's more a placebo effect than the real thing, that you might even be able to fool yourself into thing that, at the end, you feel all warm and gooey inside.
But, there's probably a pill for that, too. Consult your physician. Especially if it lasts more than four hours.
Love and Other Drugs is a Rental.
* Yeah, it's sexist, but Hollywood is the epitome of sexism--there has to be a romance in the movie to "attract the ladies." My favorite story on the subject was contained in a book about the making of John Huston's film of Moby Dick. In it, one of Ray Bradbury's stipulations to writing the script is that there be no requests for a "romantic sub-plot." , At a late stage in the scripting, Huston, being an irrepressible prankster, asked Bradbury to write a part for a producer's girlfriend.
** She's this generation's Liza Minnelli (that's not necessarily a compliment!).