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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 3, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 49
Love & Other Drugs a prescription worth filling
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Love & Other Drugs a prescription worth filling

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Love & Other Drugs
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Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is wandering through life. His younger brother Josh (Josh Gad) is a multi-millionaire with a sexy wife thanks to his internet startup company, while his doctor parents James (George Segal) and Nancy (Jill Clayburgh) and his M.D. sister Helen (Natalie Gold) can't fathom why he dropped out of medical school. He's aimless and searching, using his cocksure personality to get by while looking for a plum opportunity, knowing that when it comes along he'll have the good sense to grab it.

Soon, Jamie is working in the upstart industry of pharmaceutical sales. Partnered with seasoned salesman Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), the charming young man soon ingratiates himself with physicians all across town, including Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), a professional womanizer who's more well-meaning and good at his chosen profession than he would care to admit.

It's through him that Mark meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a sexy and vivacious free spirit who hides a painful secret. She doesn't want people (mainly men) to get close to her, but for whatever reason, she allows the salesman to breach her defenses. But what starts out as sex quickly transforms into friendship, a friendship that even more suddenly blossoms into love. Now Mark must face Maggie's illness head-on while she must decide whether or not she wants to allow him to. The pair has to come to grips with the fact that a life together might be more trying than either of them is prepared to endure.

Love & Other Drugs is not an easy film to encapsulate. It defies genre categorization, jumping from romantic comedy to pure drama willy-nilly. It has tons on its mind, but isn't always sure of the best way to flesh those ideas out. It is a convoluted picture  sometimes pointlessly so  but it is also quite marvelous and emotionally intoxicating at the same time. Director and co-writer Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, Glory) crafts with an elegant beauty I thoroughly enjoyed.

Loosely based on Jamie Reidy's nonfiction Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, the movie is the most unusual blend of comedy, romance, and drama since Zwick's thirtysomething left the airwaves in 1991. It jumps genres, continually keeping me on my toes and forcing me to remain focused on Jamie and Maggie. It is refreshingly frank, reveling in its innate sexuality while at the same time keeping things honest and real. While the world it exists in is very much a 1990s-era construct, the things it is talking about are timeless, and while the central love affair has roadblocks somewhat difficult to comprehend, the relationship truths it speaks to are universal.

Sometimes the film's sudden shifts in tone can be annoying, as thing jump from slapstick to medical melodrama at the drop of a hat. Additionally, the insertion of Josh as a part of Jamie's emotional maturation early on (he's having marital troubles and decides to sleep on big brother's couch) quickly annoys, as his character is a pointless one whose mannerisms and tics drove me nuts. I also found the final sequences to be a bit hackneyed and overblown  the only thing separating it from being a total Cameron Crowe cliché was someone uttering 'You complete me' or 'You had me at hello.'

And yet, Love & Other Drugs is so well-acted, so bracingly honest in its depiction of early onset Parkinson's Disease, so refreshingly frank when it comes to its characters foibles and insecurities, I almost couldn't help but slowly come to adore it. Zwick keeps things grounded and never lets events fly too far off the handle. Better, there are moments of cutting insight that had me flabbergasted  for example, a journey to a Parkinson's support group meeting was so skillfully realized I couldn't help but shed a few tears.

Then there is Hathaway. She is every bit as extraordinary as Maggie as she ever was as Kym in Rachel's Getting Married. She throws herself into this thing body and soul, and yet her performance never seems forced or false. Every beat she hits  no matter how schmaltzy or tawdry it might appear on paper  ends up feeling genuine. I was with her from the first moment she came upon the screen, and Hathaway again proves she is one of the most gifted and talented actresses of her generation.

The movie isn't perfect. Zwick relies a bit too strongly on his pop and rock soundtrack to get him from points A to B to C, and some of the switches in tone don't transition as well as I'd have liked them to. But I believed in Jamie and Maggie's relationship and wanted to see them make it out of the wilderness intact. Love & Other Drugs is a refreshingly adult love story full of pitfalls and hiccups that kept me watching no matter which direction it decided to go in. It worked for me, and by the time it was over the happiness I was feeling was something no psychotropic prescription could ever hope to duplicate.

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