Love and Other Drugs could have been a brilliant satire in the manner of Thank You for Smoking if only director Edward Zwick and his co-writers had concentrated a lot more on the "drugs" and a lot less on the "love." Very loosely inspired by Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman set during the sexual revolution unleashed by that little blue pill, the movie blends exuberant comedy with soppy romance that eventually sinks it. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, reunited for the first time since Brokeback Mountain show a lot of skin for an indifferent cause. Look for good opening weekend numbers as RomCom junkies and the stars' fans turn out followed by a quick fade.
The son of a doctor, Jamie (Gyllenhaal) is the odd man out in an overachieving family. His easy charm makes him a natural salesman, as well as popular with women, but he doesn't keep jobs long. This new gig selling Pfizer pharmaceuticals through the Ohio River valley appears to be more of the same, but two things happen: First, he meets the lovely Maggie (Hathaway), an artist suffering from Parkinson's disease who is as commitment-challenged as he is. Then Viagra comes on the market, a game changer in the world of drugs that promises not only to alter the lives of men suffering from erectile dysfunction but Jamie's life as well.
As long as the movie maintains focus on Jamie's adventures on the road and his interactions with new boss Bruce (Oliver Platt), competing salesman Trey (Gabriel Macht) and ethically slippery customer Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), it is frequently hilarious. It is also sharp as it captures both the naked ambition of legal drug pushers who will do anything to make a sale and the sleazy interactions between salesmen and doctors. Jamie's relationship with younger, more successful brother Josh (Josh Gad) maintains a similarly light touch.
If only Jamie's relationship with Maggie were similarly buoyant. It starts out well enough as the pair meets while Knight executes yet another ethical breach, examining his patient while the Pfizer salesman looks on. What begins as combative sparks soon combusts into something much deeper. Maggie is not very well drawn, a tough but tender female, yet Hathaway is radiant and she almost makes the character work. She and Gyllenhaal also exhibit some hot chemistry together in the film's love scenes. But the Parkinson's diagnosis sends the tale straight into soap opera territory. This is no tearjerker a la Love Story or Steel Magnolias, but by the time the pair visit a convention of Parkinson's sufferers and their loved ones and Jamie meets a man who explicates all the gory details of his wife's life at Stage 4 of the disease, it certainly seems like a prequel to that type of weepie.
The movie never strikes a balance between its comic and dramatic halves and that dooms it. It is an almost good film that flounders, because there is no treatment for tone deafness.
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Olive Platt, Hank Azaria and Gabriel Macht
Screenwriter: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz
Producers: Pieter Jan Brugge, Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick and Scott Stuber
Genre: Romantic Dramedy
Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material.
Running time: 113 minutes
Release date: November 24, 2010