Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Josh Gad, Hank Azaria
Written by: Charles Randolph/Edward Zwick/Marshall Herskovitz (based on the novel “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagara Salesman” by Jamie Reidy)
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Love and Other Drugs is two things occurring at the same time; on one hand, it’s a surprisingly raunchy comedy, but on the other it’s a by the number rom-com that you’ve seen a thousand times before. Thankfully, most of the jokes hit and the cast is good enough to keep it from being tedious; instead, it’s passable and occasionally hilarious, with just a few negative points.
The year is 1996 and Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is working at a stereo equipment store. Having dropped out of medical school, he has never lived up to his potential, content to just coast by life. When he gets fired for sleeping with his boss’s girlfriend (or wife, I can’t tell), Jamie ends up in the pharmaceutical business which is starting to boom at that time. Under the wing of master salesman Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie learns the ropes of selling pills and cozies into a good relationship with Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) and his office. It’s at this office where he first meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway).
Maggie is unlike any woman Jamie has met before (this is where generic rom-com fever sets in); while he’s really good with the ladies and getting them in bed, Maggie is initially resistant to his charms until they finally decide to have sex no strings attached. Like many movies coming up (including, weirdly enough, No Strings Attached) it blossoms into something more. Just one issue: Maggie is in the first stage of Parkinson’s and her ailment keeps her from connecting to anyone. As Jamie and Maggie get closer, he finally learns to feel for someone else and she finally gets to let her guard down. But if it was that easy, we wouldn’t have a movie to watch now would we?
Having worked together before in 2005′s Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have already built up a nice chemistry with one another and it’s on full display here. Although their romance is of the typical rom-com variety, they manage to make it work. Gyllenhaal is great in the lead role, managing to be both funny and endearing and it’s easy to understand why any woman would fall for him. His journey, however generic, still feels authentic and it’s a testament to his ability that it only comes off partially eye-rolling.
Hathaway once again puts in another great performance, and as a character with Parkinson’s, she’s given more substantial things to do. Her little tics, like her random tremors and her freak outs, are mostly subtle enough to remind the audience she is ailing but to not beat you over the head with it…at least until the movie heads into the final act which I’ll get to later.
The supporting cast is great, if a little underutilized in spots. I’m a big supporter of Hank Azaria, and his role as Dr. Stan Knight has a few funny moments. Oliver Platt is great, too…when he’s on screen. Although he’s supposed to be Jamie’s mentor, he disappears for what felt like thirty minutes only coming back to move the plot along. I was disappointed with that, and as I watched Love and Other Drugs, I kept wondering where the hell he went. Ditto for Gabriel Macht, who played Trey Hannigan, the professional (and personal-ish) rival of Jamie. It seemed like the two were going to go at it more, but he just sort of…vanishes. So long to any tension, and goodbye any potential of Trey’s past with Maggie coming back in any meaningful way.
The MVP of Love and Other Drugs is Josh Gad. The majority of the funny stuff comes from his character, also named Josh, who’s the little brother of Jamie. Although a millionaire, he lives on Jamie’s couch after getting thrown out by his wife. He is definitely in the vein of Jonah Hill right down to the look, but not only did he hold his own with the A-listers like Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, he stole a bevy of the scenes he was in. This should get him more work, if there is any Hollywood god (Pan, the Goat God?).
Don’t believe the trailer; Love and Other Drugs is far raunchier than it looks like it’ll be (if you haven’t seen the red band). Tons of nudity, tons of sex jokes, and since Viagra is involved, a “boner lasting longer than it should” gag. However, it works and the raunchy humor is hilarious; this could have easily been PG-13 but Zwick and company kept their balls and went for the brass ring. Unfortunately the comedy gets undercut with drama and not in a positive way. Maggie’s Parkinson’s is obviously somewhat of a big part of the movie, but it feels more like a tension device than organic; when there needs to be conflict, they bring out her illness as the culprit. It leads into a really down third act, where the humor disappears and it goes into your typical rom-com sappy staples: the break up, the montage of longing, the chase, the monologue of love…it’s all there and it’s relatively unchanged, Parkinson’s or not. It sucks too, because there was a lot of momentum built up from the humor and the fast-paced exchanges of the first two acts that the third just takes the wind right from its sails.
However as a whole, Love and Other Drugs is enjoyable. It’s heavy in the rom-com cliches, but there’s enough raunchy humor to satisfy guys and enough of the sappy love stuff to satisfy the girls. The cast is great, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have tons of chemistry, and Josh Gad steals nearly every scene as the comic relief. This isn’t going to break the doors open to a new breed of romantic comedy; “period piece” or not (and for the record, setting up that it’s 1996 by using “Two Princes” was not a good way to do so), it’s everything you have probably seen before. Still, if you have a girlfriend or wife (or husband for that matter), it’s worthy of a watch on your date night.