Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs is an imbalanced Jerry Maguire knock-off that relies heavily on a serious medical condition to gain any emotional traction with the audience. However, this wasn’t my immediate response to what begins as a rather harmless feature centered on a charming Pfizer pharmaceutical sales rep that falls in love with a woman suffering from Parkinson’s. It’s standard stuff played by good actors and from a director whose films I’ve enjoyed from Glory to The Last Samurai and, yes, even Blood Diamond. However, this change of pace for Zwick just didn’t work.
Loosely adapted from Jamie Reidy’s “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” a non-fiction look into the pharmaceutical business during the rise (no pun intended) of Viagra, the story centers on Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Pfizer rep, and his inevitable love interest Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway). Yeah, “love interest” is the proper description for Maggie even though her character does have a bit of an arc in this film, but the overall themes center on Jamie’s “evolution”.
Maggie’s life is wedged into Jamie’s story to give him some sort of redeeming quality, something to strive for other than finding ways to stock his client’s shelves with his latest product. Reidy’s book was reviewed as telling readers things about the pharmaceutical industry they’d rather not know or prefer weren’t happening, but much of that is tossed to the side as Zwick and his co-writers — Charles Randolph (The Interpreter) and Marshall Herskovitz (Legends of the Fall) — seem far more interested in carrying the Jerry Maguire football as far as they can take it.
Jamie is Jerry Maguire to a tee; just replace the idea of a sports agent pushing his athlete, to a sales rep pushing Viagra. Like Maguire, Jamie falls in love with a beautiful young lady and instead of being a single mother, she’s suffering from a disease you wouldn’t wish on anyone. And as hard as that comparison is to swallow, it’s true.
Jamie and Maggie’s paths follow a similar trajectory to those found in Cameron Crowe’s film all the way to an ending where a single pause had me expecting the next two words to be “…complete me”, which almost would have been preferable. It’s always refreshing to know a film is self-aware and the filmmakers know how closely they are ripping off another story. It was a moment where the entire film could’ve redeemed itself, but instead it seemed intent on walking a path we’ve been down before.
But where the film really loses its way is in the forced inclusion of Jamie’s dim-witted brother played by Josh Gad. Love and Other Drugs has more than enough to deal with from Jamie’s on-going battle with a competing local rep (Gabriel Macht), his attempts to win over the territory’s white whale (Hank Azaria), working hard to please his superior (Oliver Platt) all on top of his new relationship with Maggie. Adding his pathetic and lecherous man-child of a brother to the mix is like adding a second plastic bag to make sure this film really suffocates from overkill. Especially when it all leads to a late night pajama party that pretty much sealed this film’s demise in my eyes.
In the lead role of Jamie, I actually enjoyed Jake Gyllenhaal for the film’s first half. His charm had me sold, but as the film wore on so did my patience. When we first meet Jamie his life is without a trajectory and as the story moves forward his obsessive personality bounces from one thing to the next until he finally decides what he wants, but you can’t tell if his decision is made out of want or if it’s out of need. I blame none of this on Gyllenhaal, who is better here than I’ve seen him since Brokeback Mountain, but that doesn’t change the fact the character just doesn’t end up working.
Hathaway I’ve had my documented troubles with as an actress. I don’t see in her what everyone else seems to see. Instead I see an actress whose ego has grown to the point she believes the hype. I see her performance and imagine her inner-monologue is saying, “Look at me, I’m an actress… I’m acting and you believe every word of it.” She flounced around in Alice in Wonderland earlier this year and received all the recognition for Rachel Getting Married over the far superior Rosemarie DeWitt. Not even the fact she’s naked for 50% of this film (an exaggeration), which is far more sexually explicit than your average run-of-the-mill romantic dramedy, or her late-in-the-game crocodile tears can save this performance.
Of course, Hathaway is dealing with a character that fills a narrative need rather than a character in and of itself. Like I said earlier, this film isn’t about Maggie. Maggie serves the narrative as called for, just like every other female in the story whether they need to be romanced to get samples on the shelves or sexed up for an overly chauvinistic hot tub mÃ©nage Ã trois.
The only character I was impressed with throughout was Oliver Platt, but that seems to be the norm for Platt in my eyes. Even in the less-than-impressive Please Give earlier this year Platt gave a performance worthy of note, and yet he’s continually dismissed as a character actor.
Love and Other Drugs is out of character for Zwick, whose films recently have been far more grandiose in scale including The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond and Defiance. I haven’t seen his 1986 comedy-drama About Last Night…, but even that film didn’t enjoy the greatest of acclaim. Perhaps this just isn’t a genre up Zwick’s alley. Either way, I wasn’t impressed, though I would say the first half of the film was headed down a path to becoming an enjoyable feature before it fell off the map by the end.