It’s obvious that a lot of effort went into Love and Other Drugs.
This is evident in the carefully maintained late-90s setting, but it’s
most clearly seen in the acting talent involved. Jake Gyllenhaal is
charming and funny, Anne Hathaway is absolutely radiant and their
chemistry together is smoldering. The supporting cast is every bit as
solid, with such great comedy actors as Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt and
Judy Greer (I’ll get to Josh Gad later). From top to bottom, it’s
greatly apparent that director Edward Zwick and his entire cast were
giving all of their considerable talents toward making the absolute best
of what they had.
Too bad that all they had was GARBAGE!
Let’s take it from the top: When we first meet Jamie Randall, our
male lead, he’s selling electronics with all the skill, charm and sleaze
of a professional con artist. Jamie’s a womanizing creep, but it helps
that his rampant dick gets him fired. Also, I personally find it just a
bit difficult to completely hate a guy who leaves his job in style and
that’s exactly what Jamie does. So Jamie goes back to his family, where
they all bicker over money, jobs, medicines and business. This is where
the film started to lose me. I was, after all, watching a bunch of
annoying rich yuppies talk about boring white-collar problems. So some
guy has a high-paying job in software when his parents would rather he
have a high-paying job in medicine. Cry me a fucking river. Oh, but it’s
not like any of this matters, since roughly 95 percent of this scene’s
content has precisely zero bearing on the rest of the movie and most of
Jamie’s family is never seen again. I’m frustrated that the film wasted
time on this scene, but I’m glad that it wasn’t done twice.
So Jamie finds work as a sales rep for Pfizer, selling drugs to
doctors and hospitals. Jamie is comically unable to do this. I remind
you that not ten minutes ago, we were watching the man shill
audio/visual equipment with the zeal and showmanship of a circus
ringleader, and now he’s a desperate schmuck who can’t sell medicine to a
doctor. His energy and charisma just disappeared all of a sudden. The
film lost me then if it hadn’t already, and I still had the entire movie
left to sit through.
But really, this is all just a lesser symptom of the larger problem
that Jamie has. Namely, he never provides us with any reason to root for
him. Sure, the shallow and womanizing angle gradually fades away and
Gyllenhaal is giving all the screen presence he’s got, but there’s
simply nothing to this character. I think that this is best shown in the
second act, when Jamie is asked to say four good things about himself
and he can’t do it. At best, this makes him a nonentity who doesn’t know
anything about himself. At worst, this makes him a lousy excuse for a
human being, something that Jamie calls himself at several points in the
film. And he never gets any better until the very end of the film.
Now, before I move on and talk about Maggie Murdock (Hathaway’s
female lead), there’s something I’d like to address: She has early-onset
Parkinson’s. The ads are treating this as a big spoiler — as are a
number of reviews that I’ve read — but it really isn’t. Maggie’s
condition is the subject of her introductory scene and it’s easily the
most prominent defining trait of her character, so let’s cut the crap,
Maggie’s deal is that she loves sex, purely because it’s a
distraction from her physical degradation and all the problems that she
has in just being her. However, she doesn’t want the emotional
attachment of being in love. This is partly because Maggie’s condition
gives her a huge inferiority complex, dictating that she’s a lesser
human who can only drag any friends or family down to her level. But
mostly, she’s just too proud to admit that her body is failing and she
needs help. She’d much rather spend all of her time and energy toward
feeling sorry for herself.
There is a brief time in the second act when it seems like the film
is going to take this in a new direction. We see Jamie take Maggie to
hospitals and doctors around the country, putting her through various
tests and asking about the most cutting-edge treatments, all in an
effort to make Maggie better. Alas, this storyline is prematurely
aborted when Maggie decides that she’s had enough. She’d much rather
continue to live wallowing in her self-pity than to live with the false
hope that there might be a Parkinson’s cure someday. Moreover, there’s
no possible way that Jamie could be doing all of this because he loves
Maggie and wants her to get well. No, it’s all because Jamie could never
be able to love her unless she’s Parkinson’s-free. So our lead duo go
right back to being their unlikable selves and the movie puts itself
right back at square one. Good fucking God.
Oh, but of course our two leads eventually fall in love at the end.
Hell if I know why, though. Jamie is asked at several points in the film
why he’s so head-over-heels for Maggie and I don’t think he ever gave a
satisfactory answer. All we get is that Maggie finally admits that she
needs help, Jamie says he’ll be glad to support her and they both
finally get on their way toward being sympathetic characters just in
time for the film to end. GAH!
I suppose that I should talk about the Viagra angle that’s been so
widely publicized. Really, the introduction of Viagra only serves two
purposes in the story. First, it marks the point when Jamie’s career as a
drug rep finally starts looking up. The guy can barely sell Zoloft to
save his life, but put him in charge of selling a drug that practically
sells itself and he’s suddenly a master salesman. Secondly, Viagra
provides an excuse for dick jokes. On the positive side, there’s
actually a surprising amount of restraint in just how much penile humor
is used. On the negative side, Jamie’s inevitable four-hour erection is
every bit as discomforting and unfunny as you’d expect. We also get a
scene in which Maggie lists off a long series of dick puns, and not even
Hathaway — with all her talent and charm — can make dick puns
But what about our supporting cast? Well, let’s start with Hank
Azaria, who plays Dr. Stan Knight. Pretty much immediately, this guy is
shown to be a sleazebag. He’s a corrupt scumbucket who’ll buy from any
drug rep who pays him or gets him laid. This is the kind of guy who
injects himself with testosterone as preparation for a great night of
non-stop orgies while in Chicago for a medical convention. But then,
near the start of the third act, the doctor confesses to Jamie that all
he really wanted was to help people and that he thought practicing
medicine was a noble occupation when he first started out. It was all I
could do to keep from shouting curses in response. I couldn’t believe
that this character was trying to give us that line of crap after
spending the whole movie establishing himself as a crook.
Then there’s Jamie’s brother Josh, a perverted and pathetic pile of
FAIL played by Josh Gad. Words cannot do justice to how much I came to
loathe this character. First, he was introduced in the aforementioned
family argument scene. That’s when I had written him off as a mere pest.
Then he was caught masturbating to a sex tape that Jamie made with
Maggie. That’s when he went from grating to completely irredeemable.
Then, as the third act starts, he forces his brother to attend a sex
party and to bring him along, doing so in the most annoying, obtrusive
and deplorable way possible. Once at the party, we see him try to get
laid in scenes that are disgusting, unfunny and completely pointless.
That’s when I wanted to scream myself hoarse into a pillow. If Josh had
been removed from the movie entirely, it would’ve done nothing except
spare the audience a world of pain and spare Josh Gad from his future
career as a D-list Jack Black.
Oh, and for the record, this
is Josh Gad. Just take a good look at that picture and then tell me how
many blows to the head you would need before you’d believe that such a
man could possibly share chromosomes with Jake Gyllenhaal. Seriously,
how much alcohol would it take to see any family resemblance between the
two? I can’t for the life of me understand what the guy was doing in
this movie or what idiot decided that he’d make a convincing brother to
our male lead.
We’ve also got Oliver Platt in the role of Jamie’s partner in sales,
Bruce. Unfortunately, he’s a fast-talking and traitorous jerk who spends
the whole movie riding on Jamie’s coattails toward his own ends.
There’s Trey Hannigan, played by Gabriel Macht (who knew he still had a
career after The Spirit?), a champion drug rep from another
company. He’s a preening asshole who gives doctors outlandish bribes and
physically assaults rival sales reps. Judy Greer gets a brief and
totally thankless performance as a nurse who gets a one-night stand with
Jamie, only to react with shock and outrage when the womanizing
salesman tosses her aside.
So, let’s recap: Jamie is a chauvinistic pig, Maggie is an emo
numskull, Dr. Knight is a corrupt quack, Trey is a tyrannical bully,
Bruce is a two-timing egotist and Josh is a horny abomination. The movie
revolves around these six characters and not a single one of them are
likable or remotely sympathetic. The actors all clearly try their best,
but these roles are all dead weights that drag the movie down with them.
Love and Other Drugs had potential. It really did. There are a
few laughs here and there, most of the cast is very well-chosen, the
90s period setting is lovingly kept and the premise is ripe for a
rom-com. Of course, I’d be lying if I said that the copious nudity
didn’t help as well. If only this film had given us characters fit for
the talent portraying them and had taken Josh out of the equation
entirely, this movie might have stood a chance. As it is, this is a
painful attempt at romantic comedy that I can’t in any way recommend.