"Love and Other Drugs"
“Love & Other Drugs” often feels like two films forced to share the same celluloid square. It ricochets between addressing complex issues in a fresh engaging way then back to the overly familiar formula of swelling violins and stale representations of love.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a handsome and ambitious pharmaceutical salesman trying to oust his competitors, claim the top prize, and sleep with as many women as he can along the way. He hops from bed to bed until uncharacteristically falling for Maggie Murdock, played by Anne Hathaway. She’s a beautiful activist/artist/barista who, at 26, is wracked by the early effects of Parkinson’s. They both struggle with their own unwillingness to commit to each other, but ultimately surrender to the unrelenting allure of love.
At the outset, the film grapples with complex issues that challenge the audience: What’s the value of a profession that bends morals in an industry that’s supposed to be virtuous? Is death enough of a reason to prohibit establishing intimacy with others? How does one properly navigate the often vague terms of a nontraditional relationship?
The film, however, is too timid to follow through on any of these challenging themes. Before we can explore those debates, we’re interrupted by a penis joke or another kind of vocal pratfall by Jamie’s brother and the film’s comedic foil, Josh. By the time we get back to the debate that we left, it’s transformed into an easily digestible treatise on love. It’s like the filmmakers were apologizing for suggesting that life may not be easy to understand and full of treacherous choices. The film begins provocatively with wit, but then veers erratically off course.
After one of the breakups between the lead characters, Jamie and a doctor lie on the floor of a party to discuss the inadequacies of the medical industry.
The doctor complains that he has too many patients to care for each one properly and that he became a doctor to honorably care for people, but that HMOs and pharmaceutical companies are ruining the profession. But then Jamie is whisked away to have a threesome with two random women, after which he suffers from an unrelenting erection. The scene tries to tackle something, but ends up in a farce that contributes nothing to the plot.At some point after the halfway mark, the film forfeits plot and begins relying on an avalanche of romantic comedy cliches to propel the story forward. Having broken up, Jamie watches an old videotape of Maggie lying in bed reflecting on the perfection of the moment. Inspired, he then goes to her in his Porsche, chasing her down on a bus. Then they have their “When Harry Met Sally” talk in which they agree to be together, all set to a woeful gospel serenade. A voice over rounds out the salvo with some words on how special love is and everything is good now.
There’s a lot that’s well done in this film. The two leads are enjoyable to watch. Often the dialogue is fresh and funny — Jamie nearly has a heart attack when he says “I love you” for the first time in his life. But then it all swerves back in the other direction to a romantic comedy formula that ultimately undercuts the film’s potential.