Movies: Love and Other Drugs

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Love and Other Drugs isn’t this year’s worst movie — it hovers around number 3 (after The American and Dinner for Schmucks). It is comparable, in that all three were relatively high-profile projects, with brand-name actors, who should’ve delivered better.

Directed by Edward Zwick (the obligatory listings includes Blood Diamond and Glory, but what we loved him for is thirtysomething), the movie is loosely “inspired by” the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy? Get it? Hard Sell? See, it’s a play on words…because Viagra treats… Well, that’s the level of sophistication you can expect from the “comedy” segments of this Romantic Comedy (though technically, it’s a “Dramedy,” because the heroine has a Disease).

Anne Hathaway is Maggie. She’s an artist. We know that she is an Artist because she wears overalls, and there are long lingering shots of her feet, which are dirty, from padding around her filthy-chic unrehabilitated Pittsburgh loft space which is cluttered with the Polaroids she has a difficult time cutting up into Art, because of the resting tremor that accompanies her stage 1 Parkinson’s disease. Dirty feet? That is ArtsY, with a capital Y, my friends. She also has a lot of heart, and we know this because we see her accompany elderly patients on bus expeditions to Canada for affordable pharmaceuticals, and she is super solicitous of them.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Jamie, whom we know is a douchebag because, A. his family is rich (his father’s a doctor; his sister’s a doctor; and his brother is a geek-millionaire); B. he sells things and he likes it (he starts out in  electronics, but shifts to pharmaceutical sales, and ultimately Viagra); C. he has indiscriminant sex with women he doesn’t know or like and says things like “no one ever got laid going dutch”; and D. he wears khaki pants (it’s 1996, but still). He also briefly “romances” and discards Judy Greer, and everybody loves Judy Greer.

We know there is hope for Jamie’s emotional soul, however, because A. although he violates every possible HIPAA rule to get Anne Hathaway’s phone number from the aforementioned Judy Greer, he does this even after he knows she is a Sick Girl. B. he spends the night in his car outside her Art Loft, waiting for her to return from the Pharmaceutical Bus Trip (where he has seen her be visibly kind to old people). C. there are collage sequences involving his character which are underscored by songs from The Kinks, and Wilco. D. Jamie is played by the charmingly likable Jake Gyllenhaal, and not, say, Jeremy Piven. Or even Mark Ruffalo. He is probably redeemable.

We know that the two have incendiary Chemistry because after her initial display of temper/temper upon finding out that he’s impersonated a medical intern and viewed her exposed breast under false medical pretenses in a decidedly non-HIPAA compliant fashion, they proceed to have sex braced against the kitchen sink in her Dirty Art Loft in the exact same fashion that Glenn Close and Michael Douglas had sex up against her sink (in her super-clean white loft) in Fatal Attraction.

We know that they will fall In Love, because they both expressly inform each other that they are interested only in sex, with No Strings Attached. But the clever twist on this is (and here is where the movie heads into edgy territory), Anne Hathaway is a girl who isn’t interested in Commitment. A Girl! (It’s because her character is Sick, and therefore cinematically reluctant to be cared for, although Hathaway’s miserably phony line readings would lead viewers to believe it’s because she’s read The Rules, coincidentally, published in 1996). Sure, they will have to overcome obstacles (she’s Sick; he’s a douchebag), but it’s hard to imagine these two crazy kids won’t work it out. It’s just difficult to imagine that it would take more than a 100 (excruciatingly long, painful) cinematic minutes.

Luckily, this is an Important Movie, so it doesn’t simply occupy itself with the constraints of romantic comedy (or dramedy). It seems entirely possible that Zwick has seen both The Constant Gardener and Michael Clayton, and has drawn the conclusion that corporations, like Big Pharma and Monsanto, are more consumed by financial gain than altruism. Because this movie is not content to show a lot of Anne Hathaway’s breasts and a little of Jake Gyllenhaal’s butt, it must also offer searing social commentary on the Pharmaceutical Industry, and just how how it is they actually market their drugs directly to consumers, and how they practically bribe medical professionals: “The doctor only sees new reps who bring a lunch.”  (If you can imagine.) Gyllenhaal (perhaps drawing on emotional and physical reserves he built while filming Jarhead) is forced to use guerilla tactics to get access to doctors, including chasing them down in the rain. It is even suggested that, perhaps, Pfizer and Eli Lilly might be more concerned with profits than patient care. It is also implied, once or twice, that the miracle of Viagra treating men “without a useful erection” could be considered mildly absurd (and redundant or oxymoronic, depending on your point of view) given the larger concerns that might better preoccupy Medical Research.

Which brings us to the other Important Factor, and the fact that Sick People are human. In fact, there’s a scene where actual patients share their stories at a convention, and Anne Hathaway is moved to (long, lingering, tight shots of) tears. It’s a scene that feels sad, exploitative, condescending, and insulting. Instead of the empathy and humanity that were meant to be shorthanded, it seems instead indicative of the likelihood that Zwick watched Up in the Air, and was apparently impressed by Jason Reitman’s more cinematically successful decision to cast real jobless people in the roles of people-who-just-got-fired. It’s all related though, because Sick People are also sometimes Poor (and/or jobless). That’s Important. Although Anne Hathaway pays for her initial onscreen doctor visit in front of Gyllenhaal with a giant wad of cash (which she sardonically describes as “insurance”), she also rides the Pharmaceutical Bus to Canada (where, remember, she’s nice to old people), and later has a day where she’s fully symptomatic because she couldn’t get her medication at The Clinic.

Zwick also may have watched Michael Moore’s Sicko, because Jamie spends a good bit of the movie, and a sizeable amount of his money, trying to underwrite A Cure for Maggie (which is what the Lifetime version of this movie might be called, starring Valerie Bertinelli) — the takeaway being, A. sick people shouldn’t die because they can’t afford healthcare, and  B. sick people’s lives have value, even if they’re sick and even if they can’t be cured, as evidenced by Jake Gyllenhaal falling in love with a Sick Girl.

Gyllenhaal isn’t called upon to provide much of an arc (douchebag with a heart of gold), and leaves most of the heavy lifting to his excellent dental work and blue eyes. Hathaway’s character is called upon to do more, and in response, her performance is even more relentlessly contrived than the one in Rachel Getting Married (you’ll wish Maggie would drive a Volvo into a ditch and stay there). It’s very sad that this was Jill Clayburgh’s last movie, though perhaps merciful she doesn’t have to see it. She has fewer than a half dozen lines as Gyllenhaal’s society Mom in an early dinner scene. By all accounts, she battled leukemia for more than 20 years with the ultimate grace and dignity, and could’ve possibly provided Zwick with the insight so sorely lacking in this movie. Oliver Platt is also underworked in the role of Jamie’s Pfizer mentor, an old road warrior who’d love to come home and never will. It’s painful to think how his work might’ve been left on the cutting room floor, in favor of screen time inexplicably allotted to Josh Gad in the role of Jamie’s repulsive younger brother, who exists only as an ill-conceived attempt to capture the Judd Apatow demographic.

Reviews have been mixed which is, again, virtually inexplicable. At the showing we attended, there was at least one actual walk-out.

Lisa Schwarzbaum’s review for Entertainment Weekly was comparably negative, although it’s labeled a C+. It’s more like a D-.  But one comment thread that follows her review online perhaps offers some explanation of the term “mixed” that’s been used in some headlines. It reads, “Hey Lisa…From what the trailer shows, it looks like it could be a good movie. I want to go see it. Just because you may not like it doesn’t mean others will feel the same way.” Well, there’s a summary that just obviated the need for the entire careers of Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael.  It’s from a reader identified as “ace.” No relation.

The trailer is, in fact, excellent. The movie is terrible. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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