Friday, January 28, 2011

Love and Other Drugs Movie Review

Edward Zwick, who has specialized in Hollywood action movies with a message (The Siege, Glory, Blood Diamond) has returned to the genre that got him started in feature films – the romantic comedy. It’s been 24 years since About Last Night… starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, both young and sexy, and depicted in the flesh in several perfectly lit scenes. But Zwick has not lost his touch for the ups and downs (including those in the bed) of a relationship. The actors have been updated to two sexy stars of the moment – Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The movie is Love and Other Drugs, adapted from Jamie Reidy’s book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Zwick, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz.

Zwick uses the fast cutting and breakneck pace he picked up from a career in action movies to depict pharmaceutical sales to be as sexed up an enterprise as Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) is with women. When we first meet him he’s successfully selling electronics equipment to every demographic, including young women, young men and one elderly lady. Combined with the swirling camera and quick editing, we get an impression of Jamie as someone who can sell anything to anyone. And he does it with gusto, even as he’s being chased out the door after being caught having sex with the boss’s girlfriend in the stock room.

The frenetic opening gives way to a (slightly) more relaxed family dinner with Jamie, his brother and sister and his parents. His brother, Josh (Josh Gad), a multi-millionaire founder of an Internet startup (the film takes place at the start of the tech bubble), provides a great deal of the comic relief as the self-effacing and portly foil to Jamie’s sexy heartthrob. His sister is a doctor and Jamie is established in this scene as something of a black sheep when Josh delivers the news that he hasn’t even been able to hold down a job selling stereo equipment. The family scene is alive and jumping with some witty dialogue and a well-established sense of camaraderie. They interact with each other the way real families do. Unfortunately the film doesn’t stay with these characters, who might have made a more interesting movie, making the mistake of veering off to the familiar territory of romantic drama.

Jamie takes a job as a sales rep with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. This provides one of the film’s more absurd sequences – a training course that looks like a cross between Marine basic training (You will go out there and sell drugs!) and a Las Vegas show. One the road in the very unsexy Ohio River Valley, he’s partnered with Bruce (Oliver Platt), who dreams of getting the Chicago account and expects the young hunk to go out there and make it happen for him. Their method of accosting doctors makes it look as if Pfizer makes sales by hounding doctors with 30-second pitches in parking lots. Somehow I think if this is how a drug company actually tried to sell medicine, they’d be out of business pretty quick.

Eventually, in a variation on the Meet-Cute which we might call the Meet-Creepy, we are finally introduced to the second half of this romantic tale, Maggie (Anne Hathaway). As a 26 year old suffering from Parkinson’s, she’s loath to get involved in a relationship with anyone, but something inexplicable (perhaps to Maggie as well as us) draws her in and soon (that would be about 7 minutes of screen time) they’re writhing on the floor of her apartment. Do you think that the consummate ladies’ man will find himself falling for someone and desiring to be with only one woman? But of course there’s Maggie’s disease, a plot device used to throw an obstacle in the way of their being together without reservation.

Okay, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are nothing short of lovely to ogle, especially in the extraordinarily well-lit and revealing sex scenes (sorry ladies, there is no Jake in his birthday suit standing in the light cast by the refrigerator Like Rob Lowe in Zwick’s first film) and there’s some very good chemistry between them. But at the end of the day this is pretty standard stuff. But the film kind of shoots itself in the foot by having the most interesting scenes involve the brother. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely to find yourself wishing for more scenes with the overweight schlub than with the beautiful starlet.

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