I tried to like Love and Other Drugs. Even with the mostly negative reviews from nearly every critic I take seriously, and even in full knowledge of the fact that director and co-writer Edward Zwick could probably go best two falls out of three with Paul Haggis in a phony profundity title match, I still tried to like the film. It wasn’t happening. Almost nothing about the film works and almost nothing about it is even close to what it’s purported to be. Love and Other Drugs is not by any stretch of the imagination a scathing indictment of the drug industry. It’s not a very funny comedy of any kind. What is it? Well, mostly it’s a Lifetime Disease of the Week movie with nudity.
The biggest problem with the film is that it tries to be so many things that it ends up not being good at any of them. It starts off as the story of Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), the oversexed underachiever son of an upscale family, who drifts into becoming a pharmaceutical rep because it pays well and requires comparatively little effort. However, this aspect of the story gets sidetracked when he “meets cute” with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) during his stint posing as an intern with Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria). Said event gains him a look at her breast in the examining room. She is forthrightly cheesed when she learns of the deception, so naturally he decides to pursue her and the two become sexually—not romantically—involved.
On a shallow level, the relationship works fine. But naturally, the shallowness gives way to Jamie falling in love with Maggie, which is the one thing she can’t deal with. Maggie, you see, has Parkinson’s disease and has already been dumped by one guy who couldn’t handle the prospect of what this will ultimately mean. Rather than go through that again, she keeps people at arm’s length—well, emotionally, at any rate. Of course, this being a movie, Jamie—and Maggie’s own feelings—will wear her down and a real relationship will follow. Also on the “of course” level, there will be all sorts of trouble to slog through before we get to the end of this thing. And yes, it’s going to include the complete “boy meets girl” movie structure right down to the penultimate gloomy reel.
Buried in all this is the story of Jamie’s success peddling Viagra, which, despite the studio’s early efforts to sell the movie as a Viagra comedy, doesn’t amount to all that much screen time. The potshots taken at the pharmaceutical industry are mostly lightweight jabs. The most salient comment on health care involves Maggie helping to ferry busloads of senior citizens across the border into Canada to get their prescriptions filled affordably—and even this is turned into romcom fodder before this movie gets done with it. All of it feels forced and phony. All in all, the movie is somewhat like a raunched-up version of Sweet November (either version, 1968 or 2001) with more skin. And it will probably appeal to people who liked Sweet November.
On the marginal plus side, Hathaway and Gyllenhaal make an agreeable screen team with or without their clothes on. They do not, however, make anything like an electrifying one. In fact, they’re rather like the film’s use of nudity, with its penchant for artfully posed legs to obscure the lower regions of the stars—which is to say decorously tepid. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material.