Wednesday 9 September 2015

Movie Review: Love And Other Drugs (2010)

A romantic dramedy, Love And Other Drugs tackles diverse topics with plenty of heart, and rides an adult-oriented vibe to a winning story of love and commitment.

Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a consummate salesman, and an irresistible magnet to women. After getting fired from an electronics store for having sex with the manager's girlfriend, Jamie joins the salesforce of drug giant Pfizer. He undergoes a training course and is deployed to the mid-Ohio region, where he is partnered with veteran salesman Bruce (Oliver Platt). Their mission is to get local doctors to prescribe the anti-depressant drug Zoloft to their patients. This is no easy task, since the market is dominated by Prozac, whose slick local rep Trey (Gabriel Macht) controls all the key doctors.

Nevertheless Jamie makes some progress with the influential Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria). He also meets Dr. Knight's patient Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a lively artist suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's disease. She wants to avoid any romantic commitments, while Jamie has never had any serious partners. Nevertheless they slowly start to overcome their fears, get to know each other and fall in love. But his life is about to completely change: Pfizer is coming out with a new drug called Viagra, and Jamie is going to quickly become the most popular pharmaceutical salesperson in the region.

Directed by Edward Zwick, Love And Other Drugs is a refreshingly mature romantic drama with plenty of comic elements. This is a love story for adults, dealing with the issues faced by real people who carry the baggage of the past and can see the problems of the future. Zwick co-wrote the script (as a loose adaptation of the non-fiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy), and has plenty of material to work with, but most important are two central characters fully rounded into compelling people well worth knowing.

Selling anything comes easily to Jamie, including selling himself to the opposite sex. He does not care as much about financial success as he does about living life to the fullest and overcoming the challenge of anyone saying no to him. Jake Gyllenhaal slips into the role with ease, and exudes the cockiness that comes from the supreme confidence of being able to eventually close any deal with anyone. But Gyllenhaal particularly excels at unfolding the slow realization that he may have just found the one woman who can make settling down worthwhile.

Maggie is coming to terms with the earliest symptoms of a nasty disease, and she knows that it's all downhill from here. Her heart wants to fall for Jamie, but her heads tells her that it's a really bad long-term idea. Hathaway captures the supreme internal struggle to try and avoid the heartache of a romance that is very likely to stumble on the rocks of the physical and emotional hardships yet to be unleashed by her disease.

Jamie and Maggie have sex often and are frequently naked, as Zwick and his stars adopt a refreshingly frank and natural attitude to the early, rapturous stages of a deep love that engulfs adults and makes everything seem possible.

The film has at least as many difficult conversations and wrenching discoveries as comic moments. A short, sharp encounter at a Parkinson's support meeting exposes the awful truths lying in wait for Jamie as a caregiver. The romance narrative reaches a crisis point when devotion turns to misguided obsession: Jamie very much wants to care for Maggie, and turns her into his subject, using his wealth to traverse the country looking for the non-existent experts who will make her better. Maggie sees this version of the future, and correctly recognizes it as an exhausting Quixotic quest.

On the lighter side, Josh Gad provides comic relief as Jamie's brother Josh, a multimillionaire geek who is hanging out with his older but poorer brother after being dumped by his trophy girlfriend. Their parents are played in just the one scene by veterans George Segal and Jill Clayburgh. The highs and lows of life as a pharmaceutical salesperson provide a rich environment for fun, games, and rivalries, with Zwick demonstrating plenty of agility to easily glide between Jamie's work and personal lives.

Love And Other Drugs gets the formula right: a romance with abundant doses of character, context and honest depictions of the life altering complications that come with love.

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