Jake Gyllenhaal stars as young, horny salesman Jamie Randall who, having been fired from his previous job after being caught in an uncompromising position with his boss’s wife, manages to secure a position (thanks to his younger and incredibly successful brother) selling pharmaceutical products for medical company Pfizer. Crashing a patent’s appointment with a doctor he’s trying to sell to, it’s there where he meets his romantic match in Maggie (Anne Hathaway) with whom he becomes involved. A similar free sprit to himself, she’s a struggling artist working as waitress to make ends meet (with that traditional Hollywood contrivance of owning a massive loft conversation), who is also battling the early signs of Parkinson’s. In the meantime, Gyllenhaal’s career really move up a notch when he’s asked to start selling a supposed wonder drug for suffers of impotence called Viagra.
If there was ever a film to turn viewers off during the opening credits, Love and Other Drugs is a glowing example. A truly awful opening montage finds Gyllenhaal working at an electronic store in the mid-90’s, using all his cheeky, cocky salesman charms to entice customers to buy the latest products. We get that hackneyed, movie-land perception of life in the workplace where Gyllenhaal prances around doing the whole wacky salesman shtick like tossing merchandise over to the cashier after making a sale and encouraging a meek old lady to dance with him during a sound system demonstration. All this is cut to the strains of Two Princes by one-hit wonders merchants The Spin Doctors and suggests a horrible sign of what’s to come.
Fear not however, because although this isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it’s an amiable enough romantic comedy drama, which showcases yet another fine performance by Hathaway. She is her usual sassy and down-to-earth self, who also has the unique ability to elicit unforced sympathy from the audience with her symptoms rear their ugly head. She’s hard work emotionally for Gyllenhaal’s character, and often comes across as antagonistic and headstrong – believable and relatable defence mechanisms for someone with her condition. It’s also refreshing to observe a mainstream actress who appears to be incredibly comfortable expressing her sexuality on screen, and baring most of her flesh too (which she gets to do numerous times).
Both her and Gyllenhaal previously played husband and wife (albeit under very strained circumstances) in Brokeback Mountain, and there’s great chemistry between the two here, which feels very relaxed and unforced. Relative newcomer Josh Gad is also very funny in the role of Gyllenhaal’s obnoxious brother, who ends of becoming a semi-permanent lodger at his older brother’s place and provides the funniest moment in the film when he is caught with a sex tape that the couple have made, which he is using to help assist his own unsavoury needs.
Coming off a number of politically-charged big-budget Hollywood action-adventure projects, this is director Ed Zwick’s first small scale romantic feature since his 1986 brat pack-era relationship drama About Last Night…., and despite the modern and less-puritanical approach to sexual relations on screen, there is something refreshingly old-fashioned and retro about Love and Other Drugs. There is still a trace of Zwick’s polemics within the narrative (particular in the scenes where Annie accompanies a bus-load of senior citizens over the border to Canada where they can receive affordable drug treatment) but the director never batters the audience into submission with his swipes at corporate America, and for the most part, they sit comfortably alongside the romantic content.
The last 30 minutes or so see’s Zwick struggle to tie things up in a satisfactory way (the Viagra-induced comedic set piece towards to the end falls completely flat) and the ending is a tad formulaic and predictable, but overall, this is an enjoyable and sexy piece of mainstream entertainment, which benefits greatly from Hathaway’s presence, who helps prevent it from lapsing into the usual clichéd Hollywood weepy disease movie of the week.