Barely Enough ‘Drugs’ to ‘Love’

Photo Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Doesn’t it seem as if every romance seen in films nowadays is between mopey teenagers filled with sexual angst? If this is the case, then the genre is in dire need of a breath of fresh air.

Director Edward Zwick, long known for helming war films, answers this call with “Love and Other Drugs,” which is based on Jamie Reidy’s non-fiction title “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.”

Alas, Zwick’s presentation isn’t quite the answer that people are looking for. Though it is refreshing to finally watch an adult romance, the film is severely uneven and barely scrapes by, thanks to its charming lead performances.

Taking place in the late 90s, the film follows Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a pharmaceutical drug salesman with charm so smooth that he can give the Dos Equis man a run for his money. While tailing a doctor, he meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a patient afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, when she asks the doctor to inspect her breast.

After a one-night stand, the two decide to fulfill each other’s sexual needs on a regular basis. As their relationship evolves into something more intimate, Jamie experiences success with the arrival of the prescription drug Viagra while Maggie’s Parkinson’s begins to worsen.

To put it simply, “Love and Other Drugs” would be a much better film if it weren’t for one near-fatal flaw, which is its storytelling.

The film tells two stories side by side. One involves Jamie’s pharmaceutical sales career and the other documents the couple’s relationship, which later incorporates Maggie’s struggle with her degenerative disorder.

While these look quite straightforward on paper, the problem arises when the film begins to crumble once it tries to frantically juggle these stories. What results are rather abrupt changes in tone, as well as an uneven pace, which cause the viewer to wonder what exactly the film is trying to be.

At first, the film concentrates on the competitive arena of pharmaceutical drug sales. The introduction of Maggie puts the film’s story on a much more romance-driven course. Once Viagra makes an entrance, the film suddenly veers to show this cultural phenomenon of the 90s. Then the issue of Parkinson’s crosses the threshold. By the time the film ends, it has been pulled in so many directions that it’s a complicated, yet navigable, mess.

Prudes are advised to avoid this picture, as nude and sex scenes run aplenty. However, these moments are so abundant that even those who don’t mind such matters will be almost aggravated. What’s particularly bothersome is that these scenes seem to distract the viewer from the story itself.

In spite of all this, the story has its share of merits. It does manage to start off on a strong note by showcasing Jamie’s personality in addition to his talents as a salesman and womanizer. It also boasts some fairly humorous moments, especially those that are sex-related.

Zwick must certainly thank his two leads, as they literally save this film. It’s important to note these two because their chemistry is so convincing, memorable and, most importantly, natural. Every banter and conversation they have can attest to this because they’re purely irresistible.

Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Jamie is pitch-perfect. He flawlessly depicts each aspect of his character’s personality, whether it be his competitiveness or his determination. Any scene that he shares with a woman is a great pleasure to watch due to his suave nature and confidence in knowing which buttons to press in order to get on the woman’s good side.

Reuniting with Gyllenhaal since “Brokeback Mountain,” Hathaway is on her way to become one of the best actresses of her generation. In this film, she demonstrates her mastery of emotion along with maturity, as she appears nude several times. Furthermore, her use of body language to reveal Maggie’s character and lifestyle — especially when regarding Parkinson’s — are impressive.

Since the film clearly belongs to the two leads alone, the rest of the cast doesn’t have much of an opportunity to impress. However, the most noteworthy supporting performance comes from the hilarious Josh Gad, who plays Jamie’s blubbering and wisecracking younger brother.

While the editing is steady from shot to shot, the film’s editors should have downplayed the unbalanced storytelling by making the transition from tone to tone run more fluidly.

The film is blessed with a sense of naturalness, as the production design clearly shows. Each setting, particularly Maggie’s studio, looks just like it would in reality and never looks as if it has been forced into being shown in a certain way.

A soundtrack complements and highlights emotion and mood, and in this film’s case, is a mixed bag. Exuberant and kinetic in the first half, it later becomes somewhat predictable and sappy.

“Love and Other Drugs” is ultimately a passable film, with superb chemistry between the leads compensating for a story that needed a better narrative. While it isn’t entirely the welcome relief that the romance genre desperately needs, the film assures that Hollywood is, at the very least, heading in the right direction.

Rating: 3 out of 5