Here, let me tell you what the marketing for Love and Other Drugs won’t: Anne Hathaway’s character has Parkinson’s disease. This isn’t a spoiler - we find this out before we even learn her name or see her face, but it is a spoiler in so much as it causes her character, Maggie, to cut short her relationships before she can become too dependent on anyone.
Then there’s Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal), a cocky pharmaceutical rep hocking his wares in the Ohio valley to doctors like Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria), who happens to treat patients like Maggie. Maggie, who sees right through Jamie’s horndog agenda, offers to cut to the chase - all sex, no attachment. But we all know how that’s going to turn out.
And then there’s Josh (Josh Gad), Jamie’s financially successful but otherwise hopeless brother. His character compromises a film that works best when dealing with emotional compromise, but while an exceedingly annoying presence, he does land the movie’s biggest laugh. It doesn’t redeem him, but it helps.
Sounds a bit messy, right? That’s because director Edward Zwick (Defiance, Blood Diamond, The Siege) hasn’t been involved with anything remotely romantic since co-creating “thirtysomething” in the late ’80s, leaving him torn between his Important Movie impulses (mid-’90s Pfizer = the Viagra boom and plenty of corporate excess) and something a bit more subtle.
Luckily for him, and us, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are there to do the heavy lifting. She’s good enough to make you forgive the fact that she’s this studio-dwelling, overall and beret-wearing “free spirit” who hates what this drug dealer represents. He sells us on the salesman, lothario and eventual grown man that he becomes. And they both happen to be very good at being very naked, which gives their initial lust a more carnal than titillating sensibility.
Naturally, his sales skyrocket while her condition worsens, but they both manage to keep the movie together as it inches closer and closer to disease-of-the-week territory and threatens to fall apart. So why do we have Gad running an erection-stricken Gyllenhaal to the hospital from a sex party at the hippest house in the middle of freakin’ Ohio? Should we be thankful that we’re deprived of Jamie’s inevitable moral awakening, or disappointed that a potentially savage takedown of Big Pharma just went out the window? (Azaria and Oliver Platt, as Jamie’s mentor, each have their big moment of conscience before being shuffled out of the picture.)
And why do we have Gyllenhaal running after Hathaway for a tearful reunion before a bus full of senior citizens? These two make that last moment work better than it should. As a matter of fact, their chemistry salvages much of this confused film. In the second act, these lovers get scared of harsh reality and back off from one another. By the third, these filmmakers get scared of emotional honesty and retreat into rom-com routine. Love and Other Drugs is ultimately an off-brand Jerry Maguire riff that, while pleasant enough at times, is not without its own side effects.
William Goss lives in Orlando, Florida. But don’t hold that against him.