Compelling but Uneven, the Two Leads Carry ‘Love and Other Drugs’ with Charm

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) has game. He has that kind of charm that seems effortless, and between his charm and his smarts, he can get himself out of any number of idiotic situations he gets himself into. After getting fired from a job selling off-brand appliances, he enters the world of pharmaceutical sales, applying his medical knowledge (coming from a family of doctors) and his charm to get past the gatekeepers at doctor’s offices and pitch Pfizer’s drugs to the doctors.

As he bangs his head against the unglamorous medical community of the Ohio valley, he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) and the real plot begins. Maggie has stage one Parkinsons, and her own personal baggage matches Jamie’s so perfectly that they see through one another’s self-delusions. Their partnership quickly outgrows the status of just an ongoing fling, and then the story begins to weave back and forth between Jamie’s ascent in the pharmaceutical rep world and the rocky but passionate relationship between the two.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are the true highlights of this film. Adapted from Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, the script isn’t as tight and streamlined as you’d expect from a Hollywood romantic comedy, nor is it traditionally paced.

Jamie’s desire to help and succeed clashes with Maggie’s independent streak, and their stubbornness pushes their relationship to the breaking point several times. Viagra, the wonder drug which guarantee’s Jamie’s rise to the top, doesn’t appear until the middle of the film, belying the DVD cover copy (which identifies Jamie as a Viagra rep, not a Phizer rep) and the way the film was advertised. The metaphor of love as a drug helps piece the two plots together, but doesn’t resonate clearly in the romantic plot, which tends to be more about the resistance to opening yourself up to hurt rather than addiction.

The film has numerous sideplots, including Jamie’s rivalry with a competing rep, his developing relationship with Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria), and becoming closer to his brother Josh, who has gotten rich on his own smarts, but jealous of Jamie’s talent with women. The tone of the film ranges from raunchy comedy to heartfelt romance to parody and criticism of the healthcare industry all the way to self-defeatist tragedy and seemingly doomed romance.

It’s almost too messy of a film to fit into the romantic comedy genre. There’s too much going on for it to fall into step with the traditional pacing and tropes of the romantic comedy. Love and Other Drugs attempts to tackle a number of issues, and as a result, lacks focus other than the evolving world of the two lovers. It’s mainly Jaime’s story, and that focus helps explain some of the ways that the film meanders. The story follows Jaime’s development as a character, from a seemingly carefree charmer who resents his family’s insistence on pursuing medicine through a growing genuine human connection with Maggie to becoming invested in the plight of her disease and mastering the world of pharmaceutical sales.

Love and Other Drugs is nearly an anthology film, with several short narratives that instead of being taken on their own, are stitched together by a consistent cast, but don’t always match up in tone or pacing. There’s a message about believing in yourself (for both Jamie and Maggie), one about accepting yourself for who you are (Maggie coming to grips with her disease), and about accepting that someone can give more of themselves than you could expect or ask them to.

Love and Other Drugs will appeal to anyone who appreciates Jake Gyllenhaal or Anne Hathaway, as it shows each of them stretching their skills. They work fantastically well together here, showing real complexity, conflict, and warmth. If you like romantic comedies but want something where life is messy rather than idyllic or charmed, Love and Other Drugs may appeal.

Instead of the standard film commentary with cast or producers, the Love and Other Drugs DVD includes a number of featurettes that focus on the main actors, the characters they portray, and the special connection between the actors that enabled their laudable performances. The special features are not numerous, but they offer great insight and earnest discussion from Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, as well as director Zwick.

The deleted scenes reel is short, and at least one plays a hand on one plotline in a less potent way than is done in the final cut. The last of the notable extras includes commentary from and about the inspiration for the character of Jaime and the author of Hard Sell, Jaimie Reidy. Reidy breaks down some of the essential elements of his approach as a pharmaceutical rep and how Gyllenhaal adopted them for the film.

RATING 6 / 10