Love and Other Drugs is a rare film in more ways than one. Not only does it come from ‘guts and glory’ director, Ed Zwick (famous for period war films The Last Samurai, Defiance and, well, Glory), but it’s a romantic comedy not afraid to sail the troubled waters of adult edginess. Whilst it doesn’t quite throw its full weight behind its adult themes, Love and Other Drugs is an enjoyably escapist, but at times flawed, comedy.
Following Jamie (the ever-dependable Jake Gyllenhall) as he ventures into the ‘glamorous’ world of pharmaceutical sales, Love and Other Drugs plays its romance across a late 90’s background consisting of thick sunglasses, blocky desktop computers and Fatboy Slim records. It all feels like typical rom-com fare featuring staple rom-com clichés like the cocky, self-assured male, his string of meaningless one-night stands and of course, his fat, funny sidekick. That is, of course, until Maggie (the fantastic Anne Hathaway) turns up and blows fresh air into the proceedings, changing a bland two-dimensional comedy into something much more refreshing and enjoyable.
Bringing a much-needed depth to the film, Hathaway’s wonderful portrayal of Maggie, a young woman with an early onset of Parkinson’s disease, is both unashamedly charming and brutally honest. With her can’t-care-won’t-care attitude and Gyllenhall’s puppy-like insistence, we have a relationship that for once does have a plausible basis to it: good chemistry. The endless bickering between them ultimately rings true, and for a film most interested in dealing with the intimate details of a relationship, that chemistry is like gold dust.
Ed Zwick is an odd choice to direct (seeing as his CV is a through-the-ages-of-history tour guide), but his direction here is assured and confident, especially in his approach to the tricky sex scenes. His focus on the more intimate moments of a relationship – like staying awake all night discussing each other – makes it look like he’s been doing this his whole career. He hasn’t. He’s been tackling epic topics like war and politics – hardly the arena for the intimate details of human love. It’s ambitious directing but on a much smaller scale.
Unfortunately, Love and Other Drugs loses its focus just before the climax (pun most definitely intended). Simultaneously juggling a variety of supporting characters, subplots and a limited running time, something is bound to get lost somewhere in the netherworld of Act 3. Sadly it’s the fantastic Oliver Platt, whose drug rep family man gets painfully underused despite a great, yet slightly out of place, denouement. Maybe if Love and Other Drugs spent less time with Jamie’s illogically ugly brother (seriously just how are we supposed to believe that Jake Gyllenhall and Josh Gad are related?) and more time fleshing out its supporting cast, the script might be a little more even.
With a middle act excitingly breaking away from the norm, to focus on Jamie’s crusading attempt to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, it’s disappointing come the final act when all the clichéd character beats start slotting into place for an inevitable conclusion. It’s a shame really, as Love and Other Drugs was shaping up to be an intelligent twist on the tired old mechanics of the rom-com, focusing more on the emotional psyches of its two leads than adhering to simple cliché.
In the end, Love and Other Drugs can’t quite make its mind up whether it’s a broad comedy with masturbation jokes or a serious commentary on the effects of Parkinson’s disease. And despite doing a service to both cock jokes and sickbed dramas, it’s this uneven tone that brings the film to its knees come the end. Whilst it’s refreshingly adult, intelligent and occasionally funny, it’s not confident enough to go against the grain into its final act, which sadly descends into rom-com cliché.
Best scene: If you’re after something funny, then it’s Jamie walking in on his brother masturbating to his sex video with Maggie. Or if you want something dramatic to chew on then it’s Maggie getting drunk on vodka to counter the shakes of her Parkinson’s.
Best line: ‘Because this isn’t about connection for you. This isn’t even about sex for you. This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you. And that’s fine with me, see, because all I want is the exact same thing’.
Watch this if you liked: (500) Days of Summer