Love and Other Drugs exhibits a very modern romance exterior, complete with sexually charged banter and the revealing skin to match, but retains a classic love story underneath. The battle of wits and emotions remains fresh thanks to brazen, provocative and cleverly insightful exchanges by the two very capable leads. Despite a drastic tonal shift midway through the film, the characters and their self-reflections and revelations still feel genuine. The ample doses of humor work to keep the film in limbo between comedy and drama and as depressing as certain elements of the characters’ lives become, the playful, alluring moments remain as enticing afterwards as they did in the present. Part-time electronics salesman and full-time ladies’ man Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) utilizes his talent for manipulation and his mastery at mind games to work his way into any woman’s bed. His skills are put to the test when he enters into the trillion dollar industry of pharmaceutical sales and learns the trade from his animated partner Bruce (Oliver Platt). Selling Zoloft segues into marketing Viagra and as Jaime struggles for supremacy in the world of drugs, he becomes irresistibly drawn to Maggie (Anne Hathaway), an emotionally fractured woman who seems incapable of committing to their relationship (humorously, instead of comparing scars as seen in Jaws, they compare prescribed drugs in a flirtatious competition). The two lovers try desperately to fight tooth and nail against predefined notions of love, both uncertain of what they really want (an idea comparable to last year’s Up in the Air).
At first it starts with rapid fire dialogue in the vein of screwball comedies (albeit with crass verbiage) before transitioning into a raunchy ’70s sex comedy. But for its final surprise, the tone completely shifts at the halfway point, transforming into a dark, eye-opening, tragic love story with heartbreak and drama. It’s never confusing, but it feels bipolar. While its notoriety will probably stem from the risqué performance by Anne Hathaway, the most engaging subjects include the pharmaceutical industry and their uncaring “good for business, bad for health” drug-pushing attitude, the crafty art of persuasion, negotiation and bribery (like wining and dining a first date) that is generously employed, and the dilemma of faithfulness or pity when dealing with inevitably life-altering illnesses.
Occasionally it seems that Love and Other Drugs will feature despicable people doing despicable things for the sake of shallowness, emptiness and a few disquieting laughs, or perhaps for Hathaway to garner end-of-year awards for her grown-up role (or just to be naughty), but eventually it’s evident the deep human drama and romance aspects are what director Edward Zwick really wanted to focus on. The shame is that while it’s acted seriously, the dialogue frequently gives way to stereotypical, Jerry Maguire/Say Anything moments of yearningly deep exchanges that cheapen the heavy topics of debilitating sicknesses and unfulfilled lives, allowing us to forget about the humor that enlivened the beginning. The love story portion is potent enough and the coarse comedy could stand on its own, but the two don’t mix fluidly.- The Massie Twins