Love and Other Drugs *** ½
Directed By: Edward Zwick.
Written By: Charles Randolph & Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz based on the book by Jamie Reidy.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Jamie Randall), Anne Hathaway (Maggie Murdock), Oliver Platt (Bruce Winston), Hank Azaria (Dr. Stan Knight), Josh Gad (Josh Randall), Gabriel Macht (Trey Hannigan), Judy Greer (Cindy), George Segal (Dr. James Randall), Jill Clayburgh (Nancy Randall), Kate Jennings Grant (Gina), Katheryn Winnick ('Lisa'), Kimberly Scott (Gail).
Sometimes a director needs to step out of their comfort zone to do some of their best work. Such is the case with Edward Zwick and his latest film Love and Other Drugs. While the film is certainly flawed, when the film works, and most of it does, it is the type of intelligent, warm and funny romantic comedy we don’t see much anymore. Most of Zwick’s films are burdened by their own importance – whether it be his WWII film Defiance, his African set Blood Diamond, his Japanese set The Last Samurai, or his terrorism drama The Siege, his films often try too hard to be seen as “important” to really work as well as they should. In Love and Other Drugs, Zwick’s directorial style is much more relaxed – he doesn’t force anything, he just lets it play out naturally. Yes, there are elements of the film that don’t work as well as perhaps they should – but the center of the film works like a dream.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, the “black sheep” of his family of medical professionals. His father was a doctor, and now teaches medicine. His sister is a doctor. His brother Josh (Josh Gad) invented a medical software company that he sold and became an instant millionaire at a young age. But when we meet Jamie, he is selling stereo equipment. He is a good salesman – effortless and charming – and his brother gets him a job at Pfizer as a medicine salesman. Essentially his job is to go around to doctors and get them to prescribe Pfizer’s drug instead of his competitions. He struggles a bit when he tries to convince doctors to prescribe Zoloft instead of Prozac – but when Pfizer introduces Viagra he becomes a rock star salesman. Of course, Viagra pretty much sells itself, doesn’t it?
This view of the medical profession is interesting in its own right, but not enough to sustain a movie – especially since I cannot quite tell if Zwick and company think that what Jamie is doing is right or wrong. Yes, he is helping people get on medication they need – but shouldn’t doctors be prescribing patients drugs on the basis of their needs, instead of what drug reps tell them?
But luckily, this is only part of the movie – the less interesting part. What drives the movie is the relationship that Jamie develops with Maggie (Anne Hathaway). He first meets Maggie while on rounds with a doctor (Hank Azaria), where he is posing as an “intern” to try and get close to the doctor. She discovers his secret – and is pissed (she had removed her top in the exam room), but gradually he wins her over. She has early onset Parkinson’s disease and has done a good job at keeping everyone away from her – she forms no emotionally attachments, because they are too painful. Jamie is the same way, so they bond quickly over sex. It’s only gradually that emotions, and love, start to form between them – much to the chagrin of both of them.
This part of the movie – and it does represent most of the movie – is what works so well about the film. True, to a certain extent, Jamie’s “journey” in the film is similar to many men in recent romantic comedies – immature guy meets the girl of his dreams and grows up – but it feels natural in this movie. Gyllenhaal is a naturally charming actor, and he does the salesman part of his role extremely well, and he navigates the emotionally part with humor and warmth as well. But it is Hathaway who pretty much steals the movie. She is brilliant in it – funny, sweet, kind, intelligent, yet with a nasty streak in her as well, which she grows frustrated about her disease. This isn’t the typical saintly sick person we see in the movie – her Parkinson’s is early enough that it hardly feels like a sick person role at all – and Hathaway delivers one of her best performances.
Love and Other Drugs at times ventures too far into sitcom territory – usually when Jamie’s brother is involved. Josh Gad is amusing and at times quite funny in his role – but it is better suited in a sitcom than a feature film like this. At times, he almost seems to derail the movie with his role. There are a few other moments like that, which perhaps shows Zwick’s rust when doing material like this, since he has spent so long on those “important” dramas. But they are minor flaws, not fatal ones.
Love and Other Drugs is the type of romantic comedy-drama that we rarely see anymore. It is do with humor, warmth and intelligence, and in its two leads, Hathaway in particular; they have found two great characters whose relationship feels genuine. There are flaws in the film sure – but I wouldn’t write the movie, which for so much of its running time works so well, because of them. Love and Other Drugs is funny, sweet, sad and intelligent. How many other movies can you say that about?