Love and Other Drugs is much like every other romantic comedy you’ve ever seen: Boy meets girl and all is swell until an obstacle arises that threatens to them apart, and by film’s end … well, you know.
Despite its formulaic roots (they take a while to surface, but they will) there are two key ingredients that make the film stand out from the pack. One is something too often lacking from PG-13 love stories: This is a surprisingly sexy movie in which Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Maggie (Anne Hathaway), whose relationship is spent almost entirely in the bedroom, often doff their clothes for some casual but refreshingly adult lovemaking.
This kind of thing was the norm in the 1970s, and rampant nudity was a craze in the 1980s, but bare skin had gradually vanished from movie screens in the last 20 years, with the rise of chaste romcom princesses such as Julia Roberts, and there is pleasure to be had watching a movie that isn’t afraid of what is usually at the core of the start of most long-lasting affairs.
The film’s other secret weapon is Gyllenhaal, who has never had a chance to be this loose and comical. Jamie is a ladykiller: He can seduce women – any woman – whether he’s selling cheap stereos at a retail store or peddling pharmaceuticals for Pfizer. He’s a confident, immensely likable lothario, and he’s a terrific comedian, too. He gives the movie its thrumming energy.
Love and Other Drugs was directed by Edward Zwick, returning to his love-story roots (About Last Night, TV’s thirtysomething) after a series of large-scale adventures (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance). Zwick paces the first half-hour of the film as a breathless comedy, raising your hopes that here, finally, is a chick-flick guys can enjoy. But once Jamie and Maggie get serious, and he discovers she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, the movie becomes increasingly dramatic. Set in 1998, when Pfizer began marketing Viagra, Zwick often cuts away to Jamie’s overwhelming success marketing the wonder pills to doctors and clients who can’t get enough (there is also a good gag involving someone who has a negative reaction to the pill).
At heart, though, Love and Other Drugs is a movie about a young man who must decide if he is willing to spend the rest of his life with a woman destined to grow sicker and more dependent as they age. The question is a provocative one, and Hathaway’s performance – she’s prickly and keeps men at arm’s length, because she knows they will all eventually leave her – gives the film some edge. But the resolution is never in question, and the final teary scene is particularly weak, a canned monologue that could have been lifted from countless other pictures in which in an immature man vows to grow up. Love and Other Drugs doesn’t quite avoid the pitfalls of its genre, but at least the movie has the decency to make you laugh on its way to a foregone conclusion. Also, did I mention the sex?
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht, Judy Greer.
Director: Edward Zwick.
Screenwriters: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herkowitz.
Producers: Pieter Jan Brugge, Marshall Herkowitz, Charles Randolph.
A 20th Century Fox release. Vulgar nudity, explicit sex, adult themes. Playing at: area thaters