The ad campaign for Ed Zwick’s Love And Other
Drugs seem content to have you believe it’s a straight up rom com.
There’s a little comedy, a little tragedy, some saucy nonsense with
flirting and nakedness. Not the sort of thing I’d normally be seen
However, I may have mentioned in
the past that TLC is something of a fan of the leading man of the
piece, Jake Gyllenhaal (pronounciation guide: it’s a “soft” G, like
the J in Jake. I learned the tough way. I pass my bruised knowledge
on to you, Readership). Hence, it was a no-brainer that I would be
called upon to escort her to her latest tryst.
I’m glad she did. Love And Other Drugs is much more than
the posters would have you believe. There’s plenty of dick jokes
and nekkid ladies to keep the neanderthal in you happy, as well as
a genuinely involving story with some striking performances. Love
And Other Drugs is a solidly entertaining movie that plays nice
with all the rom com cliches while at the same time bringing it’s
own ideas to the table.
Jake plays Jamie, a
salesman for Pfizer during the early years of the Viagra boom. He’s
a fast-talkin’, low-hustlin’ hard-lovin’ guy with serious brains
and a little more of a soul than he’s letting people see. That is,
up until the point where he meets, sleeps and eventually falls for
Maggie, an artist with early-onset Parkinson’s, and his life is
changed. This relationship is the heart of the film, and it would
be very easy for it to collapse into mush. It’s saved by the
utterly astonishing rapport between Jake and his co-star, the
luminous Anne Hathaway. To my mind, she’s very much the best thing
about this film, and lights up the screen every time she’s on (I
can happily report she’s on screen an awful lot, and often not
wearing very much)(yes, I do have a crush now, thank you for
noticing). She takes the annoying manic pixie girl trope and makes
something fresh out of it, flashing between moments of toughness,
sass, sexiness and desperate, strung-out vulnerability.
Together, Jake and Anne bounce lines, looks and tiny
moments off each with the dexterity and subtlety of world class
ping-pong players, always in the moment, always totally believable.
Watching the press kit reviews for the film (are you at all
surprised that I’ve seen quite a few of these?) that rapport
becomes more understandable, as they cook up an act that’s half
mickey-take of Inside The Actor’s Studio, and half Marx Brothers
word play. It’s sometimes surprising that the interviewers get a
word in at all.
Love And Other Drugs is most
interesting when it talks about the state of healthcare in the
States. Although you’re never beaten over the head with the
message, you become quietly aware that the system is corrupt and
fundamentally broken, ruled by Big Pharma and the insurance
companies. Hank Azaria nails his role as Doctor Stan Knight,
vacillating between sleazy opportunism and caring doc on the verge
of nervous collapse. The most moving moments deal with the patients
themselves. Maggie helps coachloads of senior citizens across the
border to Canada, the only place where they can afford to buy their
meds. Meanwhile, the scenes at an Patient’s Unconvention directly
across the street from a huge medical expo slides home the
difference between the slick tactics of the drug companies, and the
realities of what it’s like to be sick in America.
Director Ed Zwick and his co-writer Marshall Herskovitz
are best known these days for widescreen historical epics like The
Last Samurai and Defiance. But they got their break with the
seminal TV drama thirtysomething, and Love And
Other Drugs feels like a story that could easily fit into one of
that show’s arcs. It’s not afraid to be clever and treat it’s
audience as grown-ups. Above all, it doesn’t fall into the romcom
trap of assuming that there’s a happy ever after when Maggie and
Jamie finally get it together at the end of the film. There’s a
maturity and pleasing lack of sweetness to the ending that sits
nicely with what has gone before, although Zwick’s insistance on
playing the “chase the girl to make the speech” bit in the last ten
minutes forced me into an eye-roll.
I’m sorry to
say that I think Love And Other Drugs could become something of a
victim of it’s marketing campaign. It’s being sold as something
that it’s not, and although it’ll draw the romcom crowd in without
a problem (and in fact the screening TLC and I went to was stuffed
solid) it deserves a wider audience. So I’ve taken the liberty of
annotating the UK poster. Just to make sure that everyone who might
be interested in the film gets the message.
Isn’t that better?
The Gyllenhaal G is soft, and matches the J. Thanks to TLC for pointing this out. I have amended the post accordingly.