Edward Zwick is a strong storyteller with equal ability to swell chests with a sense of adventure, and break and mend hearts with ample emotion. Zwick started his directorial career on the latter foot, with About Last Night… (1986), which starred brat packers Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, but quickly switched gears with his next project, Glory (1989). Like Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai, and Defiance, Glory marks Zwickâ€™s interest in the subjects of war and justice. While Love and Other Drugs, Zwickâ€™s latest effort, may seem like a complete departure from these earlier films, the director is still focused on justice, but wraps the message up in a very pretty, though sometimes flawed package.
Edward Zwick is a strong storyteller with equal ability to swell chests with a sense of adventure, and break and mend hearts with ample emotion. Zwick started his directorial career on the latter foot, with About Last Night… (1986), which starred brat packers Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, but quickly switched gears with his next project, Glory (1989). Like Courage Under Fire, The Last Samurai, and Defiance, Glory marks Zwick’s interest in the subjects of war and justice. While Love and Other Drugs, Zwick’s latest effort, may seem like a complete departure from these earlier films, the director is still focused on justice, but wraps the message up in a very pretty, though sometimes flawed package.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jamie Randall is loosely based on Jamie Reidy, the former Pfizer sales rep extraordinaire and author of Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Love and Other Drugs uses the story of Reidy’s upward mobility and success, inside account of the ruthless nature of the pharmaceutical industry, and his bachelor lifestyle to frame the narrative and create a rakish front for the male lead. However, Zwick and his co-writers Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, add an intrinsic self-debasing vulnerability to Jamie that Gyllenhaal aptly stifles, but which is slowly drawn out from the first moment you see him selling boom boxes (oh, it’s set in 1995) with panache, getting himself fired by sleeping with the manager’s girlfriend, and then sat around the dinner table with his infinitely more accomplished family members. Mom and Dad are doctors; little brother’s a dot-com success.
Through Randall’s next, ultimately successful, attempt to make a quick buck working as a pharmaceutical drug rep, he meets Hathaway’s Maggie Murdock. We’ve met her kind before: an elusive woman, stand-offish with a defensive sense of humour, but who is also free with her sexuality. Instead of having Maggie pull and push Jamie away because of some deep-seated heartbreak, her defensiveness comes from an illness, Stage 1 Parkinson’s Disease. As her character suggests of both herself and Jamie, sex is an outlet that let’s them forget their terminal illnesses (her Parkinson's; his, umm, low self-worth) for a few hours. The movie is called Love and Other Drugs, and sex is one such narcotic for these two characters.
Hathaway has certainly come along way since the Princess Diaries and delivers a sincere performance as Maggie, but this is not the best she’s ever been, as I have heard other critics say. And it isn’t entirely her fault. Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married asked too much from the actress for her superb performance to be overtaken by a role that ultimately plays second fiddle. Wrapped up in the person of Maggie are people that are marginalized by society because of illness, and those abused by the system, including big drug companies like Pfizer. Zwick has a message that he makes poignantly with Maggie’s interaction with elderly people, the presence of an “Unconvention” for illness-sufferers that counters typical conventions for those who profit from illness, and Jamie’s eventual life decision regarding his future with Pfizer. But in giving Maggie less screen time and substance, Zwick effectively marginalizes the same issue he aims to highlight.
Zwick’s message, though admirable, is obscured by the uneven treatment of his two leads. Only Jamie’s past, family, and friends are featured in the film, while Maggie is a free-standing totem of salvation for the self-centered but insecure man, despite being the most in need. Maggie seems to lack all forms of support system: she arrives as an independent; no hint of parents, siblings, or friends on the periphery — just that one guy she slept with, and the one guy she works with, who maybe says two words. The romance, the attraction, the sincerity, are all real — right down to the well-played awkward moments that belie how hard these two characters work to keep themselves closed off — but the importance of Maggie’s struggle is undermined when the final, “take me back” spiel that Jamie delivers consists of a self-absorbed narrative of self-discovery. Maggie’s lack of definition is counterintuitive to Zwick’s campaign to paint the character and not the illness, for her illness is the only capacity in which her life intersects with the rest of the narrative.
This lop-sidedness will likely go unnoticed by fans of the genre, and more men may find themselves identifying with the film than is typical for romance because of the emphasis on Gyllenhaal and the hefty order of boob. The film is otherwise fairly polished. The comedy elements are slow to build but compound for satisfying pay offs as the story progresses. Many of the supporting roles are played effortlessly by a cast of established actors that includes Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Gabriel Macht, Judy Greer, and George Segal–though the raport that Jamie strikes up with Azaria's Dr. Knight is a little forced, and Maggie's connection to Macht's douchey drug rep Trey Hannigan is too convenient. The highlight of the supporting cast is Josh Gad, who plays Jamie’s younger, more successful, and, naturally, much less attractive brother. Gad is an interesting comic whose sputtering may remind you too much of Jonah Hill, but who is ultimately responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud moments on screen.
Overall Score: 6.85 – Okay. (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
Zwick has infused the tired romance model with a little originality and a lot of masculine appeal. Love and Other Drugs succeeds because of it’s good-intentioned message, charismatic leads, and overall polish, but Hathaway deserved more of a starring role than she's been given.