Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Love & Other Drugs" (2010)

"Love & Other Drugs" needs medication for its own case of schizophrenia. The movie's distractingly abrupt tonal shifts aren't enough, though, to ruin the romantic couple at its center. It's a romantic comedy, but it's set to the backdrop of something more, a smart and zippy satire about the corporate pharmaceutical world. It's a movie in the hands of the capable director Edward Zwick ("Defiance," "Blood Diamond," "The Last Samurai") who is stuck working with sketchy writing. There's never a satisfactory balance of the two elements, the love and the drugs, but Zwick still manages to bring out key scenes and give them a necessary weight against bland placebos within the screenplay. These scenes are weighted on the side of love which sways the entire movie to drop the drugs side almost completely. Had it been the other way around, this would've been a very different movie.

It is 1996, and Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) casually slides into the career of a pharmaceutical rep when he gets fired from his job selling electronics. It's not much of a change for him because he carries his same charismatic, carefree attitude to both jobs. His charm works wonders as he works as a salesman for the drug company Pfizer selling samples of Zoloft. He slips into doctor's offices by talking up--and occasionally sleeping with--the female receptionists and befriending doctors to begin his domination with Zoloft over his adversary, Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht), whose drug of choice is Prozac. Cheered on by his supervisor Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie paves his way through this business of bribes, gratuities and sleazy relationships between doctors and their reps.

Getting close with one doctor, Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), gives Jamie the opportunity to meet one of his patients, Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), and not only that but also a peek at her breast. Maggie notices, follows Jamie out to the parking lot scolding him for allowing her to expose herself to him and from there, Jamie is immediately entranced by her cold bitterness, asks her to coffee and their story as a couple unfolds from there.

The movie is at its best when scorching the screen. At the start of their relationship, all Maggie and Jamie want and need from each other is sex. And so, they are naked a lot and having sex, well, a lot. In these instances, the movie becomes the ideal modern R-rated romance. It's hot and steamy with two delightfully attractive leads. We love when they're together, and the most memorable moments come when they're romping around in bed. All of this raunchiness is never gratuitous because these characters' bodies speak for themselves, and the sex and nudity has meaning to it; this is the way they communicate upon first meeting.

As Maggie, Anne Hathaway is great. Maggie is only 26-years-old and dealing with the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Her way of controlling it on her own is to not let anyone get too attached to her, which is why Jamie is such a good choice for empty sex. Hathaway presents a range of vulnerability and strength in Maggie that is authentic and a very fine performance. Gyllenhaal's Jamie is not as complete but effective nonetheless alongside Maggie. Also admirable is Hathaway's openness to the movie's blunt sexuality. This could be considered her first mainstream adult role, another role that truly launches her into the limelight.

By the third act of "Love & Other Drugs," it does fall victim to tired rom-com tropes. In spite of this, we care too much about the two leads to let it become too bothersome. What is bothersome, however, is the supporting character of Jamie's obnoxious younger brother (Josh Gad) who brings a whole baggage of unnecessary subplot and comic relief with slapstick that gets too gross and ends up belonging in a lesser buddy movie. And though the drugs take a backseat by the second half, the introduction of Pfizer's Viagra is a winning addition since this really is a movie all about sex and sexiness.

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