Love & Other Drugs is quite the little cocktail of mood-brighteners, a movie narcotic easy to take and, since the effects wear off quickly, even easier to forget.
Sure, the critically sensitive may be left with a slight hangover, but that too won't linger. Transparently eager to be this year's version of Up in the Air, a witty rom-com with a serious side, the film lacks the loft to get us there. Instead, we hover at the level of occasional amusement, high enough to elevate our spirits and dampen, if not entirely eliminate, those negative instincts. Altogether, not a bad trip.
The script is a compendium of archetypes flirting with cliché, some given a clever twist, others doled out straight up, and one of them invested with an Oscar-seeking performance.
The first arrives early in the glib hunk that is Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal). Yep, Jamie is a ladies' man, an indiscriminate charmer, the family black sheep in wolf's clothing. The guy is also your stock snake-oil salesman, although, the time being 1996, the snake is Big Pharma and the oil he's peddling is Zoloft, which is running a distant second to Prozac on the main streets of Ohio.
So Jamie tries harder, diligently sleeping his way into the marketplace - serially bedding receptionists and nurses to gain access to the doctors' inner sanctum, where he unzips his sample case and shifts his motor-mouth into top gear.
Keen to show off his comic mettle, Gyllenhaal tries hard too, honing in on his female targets with those baby blue bug-eyes and firing at will. Jake does pretty boy pretty well, and these initial scenes breeze along nicely, at least when Edward Zwick, a director prone to epic-itis, isn't slowing things down by inflating the gags and underlining the obvious.
The rom enters the com in the form of another archetype, the beautiful woman afflicted with the disease-of-the-week. Seems Maggie (Anne Hathaway) suffers from "early-onset Parkinson's." Very early, apparently, since her only symptoms appear to be: 1) an ultra-quick wit; 2) a disdain for emotional commitment, and; 3) a vast appetite for casual sex. In other words, she out-Jamies Jamie.
Of course they meet, whereupon, somewhat more surprisingly, Zwick has his co-stars doff their clothes in a steamy succession of quickies, regularly punctuated by the satisfied gal turning the tables on the needy guy by dryly insisting, "It's time for you to go."
Naturally, in this battle of the commitment-phobes, he loses, and his defeat proves painfully funny - a full-blown panic attack as those three little words of love perch precariously on his unmanned lips.
Less amusing are the Viagra jokes. Now pushing the new pill that doubles as a revolution, Jamie and his fortunes are on the rise, all the way to the priapism gag you just knew Zwick couldn't resist.
Meanwhile, back on the disease front, Maggie is starting to display some worrisome tremors along with a hitherto invisible streak of altruism - at one point, she can be seen leading a busload of seniors to Canada in quest of cheaper prescription drugs.
That scene and a few others of similar ilk - a doctor accepting perks from the pharmacy giants, actual Parkinson's victims describing the stages of their illness - see the picture reaching over to the serious half of the ledger. Let's just say that its reach exceeds its grasp.
Luckily, when it comes to mining pathos from the laughs, Hathaway is a lot more successful than the script. As the plot turns, and Maggie's vulnerability gets exposed, she taps deftly into her own serious side, playing the dialogue far better than it's written and, momentarily at least, lending the character some emotional weight.
Obviously, this is the sort of role - sentimentality disguised as pluck - that Oscar loves. More to the point, Hathaway is the sort of actress who can validate that love, filing away the cheapness and artifice to make it seem almost real, almost worthwhile. Almost, because she can't do it alone. Her performance is sharply etched, but the rest is just a mild fog, a slight intoxicant, often pleasant and soon gone.
LOVE & OTHER DRUGS
- Directed by Edward Zwick
- Written by Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz
- Starring Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal
- Classification: 14A