Review: Love & Other Drugs
PLOT: Circa-1996, a womanizing Pfizer pitchman (Jake Gyllenhaal), falls in love with a beautiful woman (Anne Hathaway) afflicted by early onset Parkinson's. Meanwhile, his sales start to skyrocket once his company introduces Viagra.
REVIEW: LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS is a film I've been eager to see ever since it was announced in the trades. Director Ed Zwick is one of those thoroughly consistent directors who over and over again, manages to make stirring and compelling dramas (GLORY, THE LAST SAMURAI, BLOOD DIAMOND, DEFIANCE) on a grand scale. While this might seem to be a departure, Zwick actually made his name as one of the producers of the hit eighties drama, THIRTYSOMETHING, so really, a smaller scale romantic drama is a return to his roots. Pair that with a the scorching hot pairing of Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, and you have a sure fire winner, right?
Sadly, no. I knew right from the first scene, where horny stud Gyllenhaal nails his boss' girlfriend while selling stereos that something was off somehow. The more the film went on, the more I got annoyed, especially once Gyllenhaal joins up with Pfizer, and becomes a big-shot rep, pushing drugs like Zoloft onto doctors so he can land big commissions. Whether or not the drugs can actually help patients seemingly doesn't matter.
So, I guess Zwick is trying to make LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS a razor-sharp commentary on big pharma, circa 1996 (when this takes place, meaning lots of khakis). That's all well and good, but I had an extraordinarily hard time buying Gyllenhaal in this cynical role, as he just seems too naturally earnest to be believable as an asshole.
Luckily, things pickup once he hooks up with Hathaway about a half-hour in, but even still, I had a hard time getting into the film. Their chemistry just seems off, and I think the problem is really Gyllenhaal who just doesn't seem to have a handle on his role (not that I can blame him, as a viewer, I couldn't get a handle on his character either). I think it's just a straight-case of miscasting, where the filmmakers really needed someone who could channel a RAIN-MAN-era Tom Cruise, who would have been perfect for this twenty years ago.
Alas, a new Tom Cruise is a tall order to fill, and sadly Gyllenhaal doesn't pull it off. As for Hathaway, she's actually pretty damn good as the more interesting half of the couple. It doesn't hurt that she has a lot more to work with, with her character suffering the early ravages of Parkinson's. She's been getting a lot of Oscar buzz for the role, and while I don't think she's quite worthy of an Oscar for her role here, she's nonetheless excellent. It's also worth noting that Hathaway obviously doesn't shy away from nudity, and she shows even more skin here than she did in HAVOC. I'm not complaining.
Oddly, about half way through the film, the tone totally changes and instead of a big-pharma satire, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS turns into the romantic “dramedy” the trailers promised, and sure enough it becomes a better film. That said, it's certainly no UP IN THE AIR, which the film seems trying desperately to be. Still, I found myself actually enjoying the second half of the film, which is a surprise as I was actively loathing it during the first hour.
Other than Gyllenhaal's miscasting, the biggest problem is Josh Gad, who seems to have walked in from a SUPERBAD rip-off, and just about ruins the film with his totally unlikable, douche-baggy character. I guess he's supposed to be the comic relief sidekick, but his whole subplot, where he plays Gyllenhaal's multi-millionaire brother, who's been recently dumped by his trophy wife, is a disastrous addition to the film. Every time he walked on-screen I cringed, and it's one of the most annoying performances I've seen in a major film in a long time.
Luckily, the rest of the supporting cast is an improvement. The great Oliver Platt has a juicy role as Gyllenhaal's mentor, and you'll find yourself wishing that Gad's character had just been absorbed into his to give him more screen time. Hank Azaria pops up as an initially scummy GP, that's all to happy to peddle anyone's drugs as long as he's hooked up with sex and free trips. He initially comes off as a complete SOB, but a heart-to-heart later in the film affords him a little sympathy. Meanwhile, veteran scene-stealer George Segal, and the late, great Jill Clayburgh, show up as Gyllenhaal's folks for one brief scene. The great (and HOT) Judy Greer also puts in an appearance as one of Gyllenhaal's early conquests.
Throughout the first half of LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, I thought I was watching one of the worst misfires from a major director since James L. Brooks' SPANGLISH, but luckily it got better as it went on. It's still a seriously flawed film, and one that is unlikely to get too many accolades around Oscar-time (save for Hathaway's performance), but overall, it's not bad, and moderately engrossing. Still, judging from the talent involved, I would have expected this to be a lot more than “not bad”. Consider this one a noble misfire, that could have been great with some tweaks to the script, and a more cynical hand at the helm.