Tuesday, 15 March 2011
Love and Other Drugs
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad
By Alan Bacchus
The problem with most of Ed Zwick’s films is the disconnect between the need to tell an important story about issues, whether they’re political, social or otherwise, and the disposability of the genre conventions in which he operates. It never seems to work. For example, Blood Diamond, his film about the diamond trade in Africa, lost its credibility due to the numerous explosions, gunfire and action movie peril in which Leonardo Di Caprio’s character found himself.
Based on the trailers and advertising campaign for Love and Other Drugs, it appeared that we were headed for the tried and tested romantic comedy genre featuring two of Hollywood’s hot young and viral actors. Yet midway through this picture following a second act that consists of one fleshy sex scene after another, we’re bombarded with Zwick’s issue-du-jour.
However, the surprise is that it almost works. Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) is a new drug rep for Pfizer, and his job entails travelling to doctors’ offices to pitch his wares. He’s the ideal person for the job. He’s handsome, gregarious and someone who treats ‘picking up’ women like a science. Indeed, Jamie swoons and beds as many secretaries as he can in order to get his products on the shelves. When he meets Maggie Murdoch (Hathaway), he’s immediately attracted to her whip-smart confident ways – and the breast she pops out of her bra while on the doctor’s table.
They strike up a quick physical love affair, banging just about anywhere they can. Surprisingly though, she’s the one who wants no strings attached. The more time they spend together the more Jamie’s lustre wears off, which reveals his deep connection with Maggie. A life-changing disease gradually enters the fray, and that threatens any kind of permanent bliss James desires. When the passion wears off the pair are forced to deal with the dead serious realities of life and forecast the type of relationship they would have given Maggie’s debilitating predicament.
Maggie’s illness is treated carefully and respectfully. We never really get a bombshell dropped on us, which Zwick could have used to jerk us around. We know from the first meeting with Maggie that she has Parkinson’s, but it’s such a flippant comment that we barely even take her seriously. In fact, I questioned whether she was lying in order to get her hands on some drugs. This misdirect doesn’t quite work, but it’s an admirable attempt to respect the disease.
The film feels like two halves – one fun and wistful and the other sobering and reflective. The picture might have been aided be a permanent switch in tone from one to the other. But where it falls off the rails is the incorporation of romantic comedy tropes once the story is on the trajectory of doom. The lightness in tone and the rom-com chase finale, which is to be expected in this genre, never quite feel right.
It’s a difficult corner for Zwick to back himself into. Part of the story is a powerful existential drama about a man and woman dealing with the eventual dissolve of one’s mental capacity. But of course, this betrays the expectations of the rom-com genre, which could be like the black plague at the box office. There was a chance for Zwick to shatter the notion of the disposability of romantic comedies by force-feeding us a dose of real life to his characters. But the mix of comedy, romance and heavy drama doesn’t quite congeal.
Love and Other Drugs is available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.