Love and Other Drugs
When something is referred to as "drug," it is often because that thing is thought to be either addictive, pleasurable, pain-reducing, or ailment-curing. Love and Other Drugs is a film that suggests that love is a drug in all of these senses. Unfortunately it's also a film that, like many drugs, provides us with more harmful side effects than positive benefits.
Based on a memoir by former Viagra salesman Jamie Reidy, Love and Other Drugs centers around an unlikely pair of lovers: Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a smooth-talking, yuppie frat boy pharmaceutical salesman, and Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a fiercely independent bohemian artist who, at 26, already has Parkinson's disease. The film begins promisingly, with a funny and insightful look inside the world of "Big Pharma" at a time (the late 1990s) when the commercialization/marketing of drugs was exploding in America. But it quickly becomes apparent that, as unconventional and quirky as the film aspires to be, it's largely just an exercise in clichÉ.
Directed by Edward Zwick, Love and Other Drugs follows a painfully familiar story arc: Suave, charming playboy (Gyllenhaal) sleeps with a new woman every night, afraid to make commitments or care too much about any of them. One day, he meets a female version of himself—a beautiful woman (Hathaway) who loves sex but avoids love. They decide to have a no-strings-attached arrangement that consists in nothing more than daily sex romps. Sound familiar? That's because last year's Up in the Air had an almost identical plot setup.
In spite of their insistence on a sex-only, "I hardly even know your name" relationship, Jamie and Maggie (surprise!) gradually form a relational bond because, as much as they don't want to admit it, they're human. The unwelcome distress of emotional attachment briefly drives them apart—she doesn't believe he could actually love her, a Parkinson's patient—but then they realize that they actually do want commitment and connection. After a teary reconciliation scene, amplified by the on-the-nose emoting of James Newton Howard's score, the couple lives happily ever after, at least as far as we can tell from the maudlin closing montage.
Director Zwick tries to make the film more important and interesting than it actually is. In fits and starts, the film philosophizes about the health care industry (mostly in a brief monologue by Hank Azaria, who plays a doctor frustrated with insurance companies, lawyers, etc.) and attempts to comment on the late '90s wealth-creation zeitgeist. Then there is the fact that Maggie has Parkinson's, which affords a few intermittent opportunities for the film to somberly raise awareness of the various difficulties associated with that disease—that is, when it's not busy "raising" awareness of Viagra humor with nonstop male enhancement puns and gags.
Moments of cultural commentary or attempted gravitas aside, mostly the film seems concerned with showing Hathaway and Gyllenhaal in various stages of undress, as often as possible. Even for a film about Viagra and how meaningless sex can become an addictive, pain-reducing drug (get it? "Love and Other Drugs"?), the depiction of sex in Drugs feels excessive. Whatever ambitions this film has for being taken seriously are dashed by its uncreative reliance on titillation. Do we really need to see all of this? It's redundant, and by the time we arrive at a "pajama party/orgy/threesome" scene near the end, it's downright offensive.