Thursday, December 2, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

One of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s most fundamental rules is that simplicity is key to creating a great dish. That’s kind of what goes wrong with Love and Other Drugs: it tries too hard to be too many things. It’s a good movie lost amidst a sea of variables that all go several different directions of nowhere. The biggest problem is that Maggie (Anne Hathaway) the lead female character has a disease and there is only one reason for any character to ever have a disease in the movies. If you can think of another you’re already way ahead of Love and Other Drugs.

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a hotshot youngster. He’s the son of affluent parents, has a rich entrepreneur brother, and is an expert salesman, selling cheap knockoff electronics where he divides his time between getting commission and getting the manager’s girl in the back room. Out of work he decides to pursue a career in the only entry level job in America that pays over 100K in the first year: the sale of pharmaceutical drugs.

It seems like a perfect fit for Jamie so he’s shipped off to Ohio to prove himself. The key is to go in to the doctor’s office, woo the receptionists and nurses, get your drug samples on the back shelf and charm the doctor into prescribing your Zoloft instead of the competition’s Prozac. If you’re good you attain the dream of getting shipped off to sell in Chicago.

Then, pretending to be an intern at one of the offices, he meets Maggie who has all kinds of problems, which right now includes a weird mark on her chest. She’s the kind of girl who’s young, too smart, too beautiful, talks like a second rate Woody Allen movie and has the first stage of Parkinson’s. Too bad for her. Too bad for the movie too. She’s mad after she exposes herself in the examination room only to find out he’s a drug rep not an intern. He asks her out. She rejects. He charms the nurse into her number and she accepts. A word of advice to all movie characters: if you meet a girl on a first date in a coffee shop that plays Dylan in the background, she’s probably got baggage. This leads to a scene in which she psychoanalyzes him to his face as if she knows every trick is his con book. But so do we, trapping Hathaway in a scene that talks like it's smart but walks like it's just treading water.

She doesn’t want a relationship because she’s, of all coincidences, already had her heart broken by another drug rep who just so happens to be Jamie’s biggest competition. Sure. He’s also emotionally reclusive because to him girls are sex not love. So they have sex, which works for both of them, many times, until Jamie decides he loves her and she decides, against her better judgement to reciprocate. This changes the movie from light comedy to romance until she visits a Parkinson’s rally and realizes there are others just like her. This is around the same time that he realizes the worst is yet to come and if he ever wants to make Chicago (a strong likelihood after he gets the chance to start selling Viagra) he’ll need to ditch her or cure her, and the movie switches hats again into melodrama.

I’m pretty sure, if you know anything about the politics of screenwriting, despite all the shifts in tone, you can tell exactly what twist the story will take before arriving at its inevitable conclusion. What you may not anticipate is a pre-third act breather in which Jamie and his recently kicked out of the house brother, transported in from another movie altogether, are invited to a pyjama party by Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) and his oversized libido. The one demand: they bring the Viagra samples.

Of all the sidetracks Love and Other Drugs takes this one is the worst. For a movie that feels long at two hours, a midway pajama party that ends in the hospital after a Viagra side effect takes hold, kills the tone, changes the mood to slapstick before materializing back into sap and achieves really nothing of any narrative significance. Did Zwick, a considerable talent, hold the scene so close to his heart that he simply threw it up in the air to see where it would land? There always seems to be at least one bad scene in even the best Zwick movies. He outdid himself this time.

That’s basically the entire movie, which runs back and forth and up and down the emotional spectrum until it arrives at it's end having achieved nothing much except filling 2 hours. A movie about a drug salesman could be good. So could one about a girl in the beginning stages of an incurable disease and sure enough both Gyllanhaal and Hathaway make a likable pair. They are cute and funny and believable together and left to swim on their own in an open sea of muted comedy and tired melodrama. There's nothing to prescribe that could have cured a movie like this, but like most prescription drugs that need sales reps, another round of rewrites and one more trip through the editing room may have eased the pain a little.


  1. Oh well. Still looks good. Worth a look.

    BTW, Mike, I'm starting my own sort of comment contest thing at FFTSBH tomorrow (Tuesday). People come up with a witty phrase to go with a screen grab from a random movie. Head on over and take part. Thanks.

  2. Well there is a lot of nudity so it may well indeed be worth a look.

    It is a general rule for me to participate in anything people pimp out in my comment section so count me in.

  3. A relationship drama that doesn't cut corners. It brings the pain, which makes the moments of triumph that much sweeter.

  4. It's just too bad the moment's of triumph arn't in a movie that deserves them or knows what to do with them.