Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal, "Brokeback Mountain") should be the family golden boy, but his ADD kept him from getting his medical degree. Younger brother Josh (Josh Gad, TV's "Back to You," "Woke Up Dead") has just made a killing selling his medical record software and hooks Jamie up with a contact at Pfizer where Jamie, a natural ladykiller, discovers he has a knack for sales. Posing as an intern for a client, Jamie meets the beautiful enigma Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway, "Brokeback Mountain"), an artist suffering from early onset Parkinson's disease, and his personal and professional lives collide in "Love and Other Drugs."
Director Edward Zwick ("The Last Samurai") and cowriters Charles Randolph ("The Interpreter") and Marshall Herskovitz ("The Last Samurai") take Jamie Reidy's nonfiction book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" and frame it within a fictional love story which takes precedence over outing the Big Pharma sales practices Reidy exposed. It's an entertaining, even touching film, but the fictional Jamie's underhanded sales practices are used for laughs over outrage and his chief rival, Eli Lilly's Prozac king Trey (Gabriel Macht, "The Spirit," "Whiteout"), is equally romantic rival as business. Come to "Love and Other Drugs" for a well-acted romance and you're in luck - come to be outraged at pharmaceutical business practices and you'll be at the wrong film.
After attending boot camp training at Pfizer, Jamie's awarded Zoloft in the Ohio River Valley. The area manager, Bruce Jackson (Oliver Platt), shows him the ropes, guiding him on how to ambush doctors who won't take appointments in parking lots bribing them with promotional items. Jamie's way with the ladies partnered with persistence gets him in tight with the administrative forces that gatekeep his clients, represented here by Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria, a no nonsense practitioner with regular Joe exploitable desires). Jamie clandestinely removes Knight's Prozac samples in favor of his Pfizer equivalent and makes one homeless man at the dumpster very happy. He also observes the examination of patient Maggie, a quick-witted woman with a dark sense of humor about her predicament. Unfortunately, she tags him as a sales rep in the parking lot and lets him have it.
But Jamie's intrigued and weasels her phone number from the assistant (Judy Greer, TV's "Miss Guided," "Love Happens") he's been playing doctor with. Maggie turns out to be his female equivalent - a woman with a huge fondness for no-strings sex (Gyllenhaal and particularly Hathaway really steam up the screen in scenes sure to turn anyone with a fondness for "The Princess Diaries" pale). She beeps him, and they have assignations on her floor, in alleys and at his place, although the presence of Josh on Jamie's couch makes for some awkward comic moments.
As it turns out, Maggie is well aware of how her disease will progress and refuses to saddle a potential love interest with it. She's even more averse to sympathy. And so she keeps an emotional distance, which is exactly like catnip - a drug - to the salesman playboy. Meanwhile, Maggie's anti Big Pharma stance (she escorts buses of senior citizens to Canada to buy their drugs) offers a slight political distance between them as well. But finally, Maggie succumbs, when she finds confidence from a Parkinson's support group while at a convention with Jamie in Chicago - just as he's hearing from the husband of a sufferer telling him how the disease will drain everything away between them over time. It's the classic romcom obstacle disguised as real life tragedy in sheep's clothing. Jamie makes Maggie's illness his project, determined to find a cure where there is none until she cries foul outside of Massachusetts General.
Jamie goes off the deep end, attending a hedonistic 'pajama party' with his brother, invited by the sexy sales rep, Lisa (Katheryn Winnick, "Cold Souls"), he'd been after at film's start. Ironically he has a bad reaction to the Viagra that's made him a sales superstar and ends up in the ER.
Zwick's made a well crafted film, but if he thinks he's making a spoonful of medicine go down cloaking his subtext in romance he's sorely mistaken. "Love and Other Drugs" is a romance set against the backdrop of Big Pharma at a time when brand name prescription drugs were just beginning to be advertised on TV. He retains the midwestern setting of Reidy's book (Ohio stands in for Indiana) where the prize is assignment to Chicago. Gyllenhaal has all the slick salesman charm necessary to make him a believable winner, especially with the ladies, while also putting across real emotion turning those big eyes of his all sad and concerned. The film requires a mix of comedy and drama and Gyllenhaal delivers both without stumbling in between. Hathaway is really growing as an actress and her prickly, sexy Maggie is a complex balance between self sufficiency and pity. She's got an inner dorkiness, though, that she often cannot supress and that's the case here. The costars, who played a married couple in "Brokeback Mountain," have strong chemistry and give the on screen relationship a sustainable arc. Support is strong, with Azaria's doc matter of factly dealing both with patients and picking up chicks, Platt's manager an unsung Everyman and Gad a goofy sidekick. George Segal and Jill Clayburgh appear briefly as Jamie's high achieving parents.
"Love and Other Drugs" is a strong piece of entertainment set against an unusual backdrop which it fails to mine for subtext.
Robin did not see this film.
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