MacGuffin Film Review – Love & Other Drugs

Film Review – Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs (2010) is a screwball comedy, or a romantic comedy, or a serious melodrama, or a satire of the pharmaceutical trade.  Are you starting to catch my drift?  In some ways, the film works on all these levels, but in others, it doesn’t work in any of them.  Interesting, given that the director is Edward Zwick.  Here is a solid director whose previous work includes Glory (1989), Legends of the Fall (1994), The Last Samurai (2003), and Blood Diamond (2006).  Needless to say, the man knows how to direct a film.  Unfortunately, his cinematic touch wasn’t enough to elevate this film above what it could have been, despite having a lot of potential and looking pretty darn good on screen.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, a pharmaceutical salesman with a golden smile and magnetic charm.  With a quick glance, a slight tilt of his head, and the perfect use of words, Jamie can make any person melt at his feet.  This results in success both as a salesman with potential customers and in the bedroom with the ladies.  Jamie works with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company made famous for its development and distribution of Viagra in the mid nineties.  Egged on by his business mentor Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie works diligently to sell his product to potential doctors, including Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), who apparently acts as his ticket to Chicago and to the real money.

Things take a turn for Jamie when he meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), one of Dr. Knight’s patients.  Their romantic meeting is one of the more interesting romantic meetings in recent movies, with Jamie witnessing Maggie’s bare breast before even knowing her name.  Maggie is one of those female characters that you see in just about every other romantic comedy: she is unique, quirky, artsy and aloof, she paints without trying, makes collages out of photographs, and lives in a loft that looks like it costs a lot more than what she earns as a…as a…well, the film never really explains what she does for a living, but she enjoys bringing elderly people north of the border so they can afford their medications, that’s got to count for something.  This fascinating character immediately intrigues Jamie, and their early scenes together are some of the better scenes of the film, as they spar back and forth in a jousting match of words; him trying to pursue a woman not easily persuaded by his charms, and her knowing full well of his game and intentions.

Sex, lots of sex.  There is a lot of sex here, way more than one would expect in a film like this.  In fact, much of Jamie’s and Maggie’s early courting involves them being naked and breathing heavy together.  They have sex at his place, at her place, inside, outside, during their spare time and even when they are busy.  As a warm-blooded human being, this may be the very first time where I say that a movie has too much sex in it.  After the first three or four love scenes, we start to get the point that these two like each other.  Early on they agree that their relationship will be based solely on the physical, and not allow emotion to be a part of what they have.  Here’s a question: whenever people say that their relationship will be based only on sex, how often does that actually happen in the movie world?  We believe that for about, oh, five minutes, but we soon realize that the tropes of a romantic comedy are in full gear here; it’s only a matter of time before they lay out clearly.

As a comedy, the film does have a lot of funny moments.  Many of these moments involve Jamie’s brother Josh (Josh Gad).  Wealthy from his ventures as an internet businessman, Josh seems to be resigned to remain as if he never graduated grade school.  He’s sloppy, unkempt, always seems to be in his pajamas, and has a choice of words that doesn’t abide by any rule of manners.  However, Josh is lovable in a way that’s hard to pin down.  He’s quick witted, and spouts one liners that had me laughing out loud.  His character is one that would have been played by Jonah Hill or Clarke Duke in an alternate universe, and here Josh Gad steals many of the scenes that he is in.  Sure, you could say that he’s a one-dimensional caricature, but he is certainly a funny one-dimensional caricature.

Where the film falls apart is in the script.  What the script fails to do is concentrate on exactly what kind of film this is, what kind of tone it’s going for, and what exactly it wants to focus on.  One of the major developments of the story involves Maggie’s issue with Parkinson’s disease.  She is in the early stages of it throughout the course of the story, and as her illness becomes the forefront, the story takes a much heavier turn.  The lightheartedness of the early scenes with the romance between Jamie and Maggie and the slapstick comedy of Josh is replaced with Maggie’s situation.  When the humor and romance attempts to reintroduce themselves in the later stages of the film, we find it hard to go back after the melodrama that has been brought in.  There are a number of scenes that seem to belong in a completely different movie: one involving an argument between Jamie and Maggie in Maggie’s apartment, and another featuring a man detailing to Jamie what he should expect when Maggie’s illness inevitably develops.  These scenes don’t really have anything wrong with them when seen individually, but as a part of the film’s whole, they do not gel together very well.  It wants to be a little bit of everything, and as a result, it fails to succeed at anything.

Which is too bad, because there was a lot of promising talent assembled here.  Re-teaming from their previous work in Brokeback Mountain (2005), Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway have an onscreen chemistry that is undeniable, he has very rarely given a bad performance, and she has an aura about her that keeps us glued to the screen.  However, the film does not support its talent, with its uneven tone, and over the top comedy and melodrama.  In a film that features Viagra, you can almost guarantee that there will be a scene where someone will have a “malfunction” with their medication, and the climactic scene reveals it to be no more than a routine love story disguising itself to be more than what it actually is.  I’m not saying the film is terrible, not at all, but it’s certainly not great either.

Final Grade: B-

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