Love And Other Drugs

 

This review contains spoilers.

Edward Zwick’s new film, Love And Other Drugs, is a very strange beast indeed. Taken on its own terms, it’s a witty, engaging and refreshingly grown-up take on the traditional Hollywood romantic comedy. However it’s also a deeply flawed film that struggles to combine its various generic ideas – I counted medical satire, Judd Apatow-esque gross-out farce, disease-of-the-week drama, doomed romance weepie and battle-of-the-sexes comedy – into a satisfying and coherent whole. A lot of people will despise it because of its ending, which I shall come to in due course.

It begins in suitably swashbuckling style as charismatic, charming and utterly empty salesman Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) seduces countless women while making his way in the Big Pharma field of Pfizer drugs, competing with other smooth-talking rogues to offer doctors ‘their’ product. Soon, when Viagra launches, he becomes the go-to guy. While trying to impress world-weary cynic Dr Knight (Hank Azaria), he intrudes on the medical examination of Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a young Parkinson’s sufferer in stage 1 of the illness. Maggie, initially appalled at his cynical bravado, soon embarks on a distinctly physical and sex-orientated affair with Jamie, but then, inevitably, things become more complicated.

This brief synopsis doesn’t even mention the distinctly improbable character of Josh (Josh Gad), Jamie’s unappealing multi-millionaire younger brother, who is responsible for strange outbursts of gross-out humour and feels like an addition forced onto the filmmakers to keep the younger elements of the audience happy. It’s not too annoying, but it feels cartoonish and out of kilter with the feel of the rest of the film. But then it’s not quite clear what Zwick is trying to do. Harsh, realistic scenes and moments – Maggie sneers at one point ‘It doesn’t make you a good person just because you pity-fuck the sick girl’, a line worthy of Patrick Marber’s Closer – are juxtaposed with gooey-eyed romantic scenes that feel distinctly cookie-cutter in their sentiments. And the dreadful, dishonest ending, which has Maggie and Jamie tied together in a ‘happy ever after’ clinch without even hinting at the horrendous problems that lie ahead, feels untrue compared to what’s gone before.

A shame, then, because this is generally enjoyable, well-written fare. Gyllenhaal, an actor who is becoming more conventionally handsome as he gets older, is just the right balance of punchable and charming as Jamie, and Hathaway is sweet, sexy, ferocious and completely sympathetic as Maggie, well deserving of all the praise that she will doubtless deserve. What a shame about the way that it cops out, short-changing all the good work of the previous 105 minutes.

Although it’d be an entirely different film, I’d be intrigued to see what a David Fincher or a Neil LaBute (an on-form LaBute, not a Wicker Man-remaking LaBute) would have done with this material. It might have been more subversive, but also more real and satisfying. As is, we have yet another example of a pretty good piece of entertainment that could have been something rather special.

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