With Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad. Directed by Edward Zwick. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material. 113 minutes.
We could certainly always use a good romantic comedy, and during the early part of LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, it seems like this might be the one. However, the film loses its way in the third act, turning into a “disease of the week” melodrama, and relying on the most tired of clichés to get to the requisite happy ending. The talented leads are attractive and sexy, but it’s not enough to overcome a flawed script.
Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is long on charm and cleverness, and short on ability to commit to anything. Drifting through life, he is an embarrassment to his high achieving family (including George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh appearing briefly as his parents). He takes a job as a pharmaceutical salesman. He is placed under the wing of veteran Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), who impresses on him the need to do whatever it takes to get doctors to prescribe their product line rather than the competition’s.
Jamie wheedles his way into the office of Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria wasted in a nothing role) and meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a stunning patient. She’s not interested in his advances but, ever the salesman, he doesn’t give up. She finally opens the door to a sexual relationship provided there’s no chance of love or other feelings getting involved. If he’s afraid to commit, she’s afraid to be loved. Sounds like a match-up made in romantic comedy heaven, as they both have to overcome these flaws.
Ah, but there’s a reason she doesn’t want a relationship. She’s in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, a degenerative ailment for which there is no cure. Though her hands occasionally shake, she is perfectly capable of leading a normal life. It is her fear of someone feeling they are stuck with her down the road when things get worse that’s the problem. That’s quite a curveball to throw into a romantic comedy, and for a while you think they’re going to be able to pull it off. Sure, there’s Jamie’s boorish brother Josh (Josh Gad) who seems to be staying with him for no discernible reason, but Gyllenhaal and Hathaway develop a nice chemistry, and you want to see this work out.
Unfortunately, director Edward Zwick and his co-screenwriters can’t make it work. As they realize they’re falling in love, Jamie becomes obsessed with finding a cure or radical treatment and drags her around the country in search of them. Then they break up. And then we actually get a scene of him chasing after her on the highway while she’s in a bus. Apparently, the writing team didn’t find the usual cliché of him running through city streets unoriginal enough.
At some point in the film, Jamie starts peddling Viagra, which is good for a number of jokes about him going from mere drug salesman to Mr. Popularity, yet they seem to belong in another movie. That’s the real problem with “Love And Other Drugs.” It can’t make up its mind if it wants to be a romantic comedy, a satire about modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, or a melodrama about whether love will triumph over illness. The various elements clash and, in the end, the movie fails to fully serve any of these stories. Classify this one as an “interesting failure” and wonder what might have been.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.