Released in the States at the peak of the Oscar season, perhaps Love And Other Drugs had high intentions, but despite its who A-lister leading names, it’s more of a standard comedy-drama at heart, but then that’s not necessarily a problem.
Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal), an ambitious pharmaceutical salesman, is probably the biggest charmer you’ll ever meet. After getting sacked from his job in a hi-fi store because he got a little too close to the boss’ girlfriend, making more than decent living off commission alone, when his brother suggests he goes into selling for pharmaceuticals company Pfizer, he has to step his game up another notch.
Shadowing a highly regarded local doctor, all the while pushing Pfizer’s products for the practice, Jamie meets Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), a stage one Parkinson’s sufferer, he becomes more than a little fascinated by. After winning her over proves much more difficult than Jamie is used to, Maggie starts to slowly open up and reveal the impact her illness is having deeper into her life, the pair develop a bond neither had expected. When their relationship reaches a point however, that Jamie would be sacrificing a lot to care for Maggie, and Maggie asking so much of Jamie to do it, whether they can stick the distance isn’t just a question of love.
A big departure from his usual action, Love And Other Drugs is only director/co-screenwriter Edward Zwick’s second comedy-drama, the first being his debut About Last Night…, and on the whole, he handles the genre well. The romantic angle isn’t overbearingly played and blends in nicely with Jamie’s salesmen plot, although as each find a resolution, the narrative feels a little lopsided.
Taking much of the film to build up the relationship, the film doesn’t seem to spend much time within it, and somewhat under explores her Parkinson’s suffering, though on the flipside, this saves the film’s mostly light-hearted nature.
The story, or more so that of the book upon which it was based (Hard Sell: The Evolution Of A Viagra Salesman), pits Randall as moving onto selling Viagra (which as the films draws to a swift close, doesn’t massively impact on the plot), and though that would suggest a certain degree of nudity and sexual content, the sex scenes are surprisingly bold, and Hathaway surprisingly forthcoming to taking her clothes off. The syndic inside you might argue the nudity hides a lack of edge the film would have otherwise been lacking, but that isn’t a huge misgiving.
For the first time in a while, Gyllenhaal puts in a commendable shift, while Anne Hathaway is always effortlessly watchable, even here when dealing with her troubling disease. Her character is warm but conflicted and she copes aptly with the frailties placed on Maggie. Opposite, Gyllenhaal pulls off his ‘get all the ladies’ charmer without coming off as a jerk, which is commendable, and he adds steel and depth to Jamie later on.
For it’s hard work, however, sadly the film is wholly undermined by some awful soundtracking, or at least the two all-important emotional scenes. The clichéd, over-bearing slow ballad placed over the top of each heartfelt moment completely kills the atmosphere and further ridicules the tone and nature of the narrative as a whole. With the change of pace into these scenes already so evident (Love And Other Drugs at near breakneck-speed throughout the rest of the narrative), the smaltzy ballad feels like running into a brick wall and is a blot on a story that otherwise felt fairly fresh, in a genre so prone to repeat. The relationship still feels genuinely in danger at times, and, at others, full of life but still unpredictable, it just could have been so much more, if only it wasn’t for that damn track choice.