Drug haze 

Gyllenhaal, Hathaway can't stop the pain

Love and Other Drugs is a science experiment of sorts, one that answers the question of what happens when you put a mediocre romantic comedy screenplay in the hands of two Oscar nominees, a few fantastic character actors and a director whose resume includes Blood Diamond.

Okay, just pretend that you are curious what the answer is.

This film is not, as you may have already guessed, from the standard romcom pedigree of late, in which one takes a Kate Hudson or Drew Barrymore-type, mixes in a few Top-40 love songs and some random dude you've never heard of, and produces 90 minutes of mush. There's something a little more complicated going on in this film, and with a high-quality cast featuring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal comes the expectation that we're going to get, well, high quality mush. And we do, for a bit. I even laughed out loud more than once, which is always weird when you're the only one in the theater, as I was at 9:55 p.m. on a Sunday night.

But prepare to be silenced mid-chuckle about two-thirds the way through Love and Other Drugs, when the film suddenly hops on its manipulative high-horse while concurrently ripping off some of the best films of the genre, most blatantly Jerry Maguire. It's a mix that gets ugly and awkward real fast, and it becomes impossible to compensate for these fatal flaws, no matter how many times they show us Hathaway's breasts or Gyllenhaal's bare ass.

What's disappointing is that there is decent source material here. The film is loosely based on the 2005 book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, with Gyllenhaal playing the role of cocky and confident Pfizer drug rep Jamie Randall during the late 1990s, when the infamous little blue pill changed lives in bedrooms across the country—even Bob Dole's bedroom, as we are reminded more than once. Jamie essentially sleeps his way through training and ultimately into the offices of the doctors he needs to sell to. He's as good at casual sex as he is selling Zoloft to middle-aged medical professionals.

click to enlarge Put the phone down, Jake.
  • Put the phone down, Jake.

Try not to be surprised when I tell you Jamie meets a woman who makes him want to finally settle down. That woman is Maggie (Hathaway), one of those mid-20s, urban, hipster-artist types who live in a cavernous flat/studio that apparently must be rent-controlled. Maggie is also a casual-sex enthusiast, though for reasons different than Jamie. She has stage-one Parkinson's Disease, and seems intent on using her flings as a way to stay in denial about the debilitating effects of her illness that await in years to come.

Of course, romantic comedies being what they are, it only takes about four or five scenes before Jamie and Maggie are coming to grips with the sudden realization that they may have real, legitimate feelings for each other. Not coincidentally, this is also about where I stopped laughing. The tonal shift is sudden. One moment I'm mildly amused by the cheery, late '90s vibe that's moving along a decent story line (aided, I should add, by the always superb Oliver Platt as Jamie's boss and "The Simpsons"-voice extraordinaire Hank Azaria as a frazzled doctor), but, like the explosion of the tech bubble at the end of last decade, this film too suffers from a sudden end to the good times.

I'm not adverse to films about life-changing illness and degenerative diseases, and I understand that something like Parkinson's would strain any relationship, especially when planning for the future. But the way in which Love and Other Drugs proceeds to exploit the sick as a plot point is just icky, especially in the context of where this film was heading. It's lazy and unimaginative filmmaking.

And yes, Mr. Gyllenhaal, we get it; you're in angst about it all. We see it on your face over and over. By the time he's reenacting Jerry Maguire's climatic speech to Renee Zellweger (only this time on a bus, not in a living room), I was more than ready for a return to the carefree Clinton years where the film started.

It's strange, I should note, that the last time we saw Hathaway and Gyllenhaal on screen together was as a far different couple in Brokeback Mountain. That film more than proves that these two young actors have the chops to do great things. It's a shame they kind of put it on cruise control for this one. While Love and Other Drugs is still better than just about every romcom these days (when you're watching Sex and the City 5 in 12 years, this one will look like an Oscar-winner), there has to be a higher bar with a cast like this. Anne and Jake, we expect better things next time.

Love and Other Drugs continues at the Village 6.

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