I read an obvious and overused clichéd critical reference that ended up telling me absolutely nothing about the new film Love and Other Drugs. I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes these types reviews or those quick phrases on movie posters and ads that say things like “You will laugh. You will cry. You’ll love this movie.” We also have statements, for several different films, like “The best romantic comedy of the year,” or “The movie of a generation,” and so on. I would appreciate it, if instead, a one-sheet read “Finally a movie comes along and doesn’t treat you as though you are duller than a bag of hammers.” That is what my advertisement would read for Love and Other Drugs. That quote probably should not near the front of any movie poster, but it is the most honest thing I can say about this movie. I was genuinely surprised at how much I liked this movie, especially after reading a review that praised this romantic film with the exact phrase that has been used to describe nearly every other romantic release this year.
In the trailer, the movie comes across as somewhat of a Jerry Maguire retread, a shallow shark of a businessperson woos the one girl who sees something good in him. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. This is most likely due to who was in charge of the picture.
I am referring to director Edward Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay. It is so rare to see a filmmaker of note make a movie about romance anymore. I cannot remember the last time I saw a romantic comedy and recognized the director. This is not to say that first time filmmakers or lesser-known filmmakers cannot contribute to a genre; that would be ridiculous. I am merely saying that when someone with the film resume and skill like Edward Zwick makes a movie in a genre ruled by its clichés, we might just see a different type of movie. Zwick, most known for directing films such as Glory, The Siege, arguably the best contemporary movie made about terrorism, Blood Diamond, Defiance, and a quintessential 80s romantic comedy About Last Night, restored some hope to a tired genre recently ruled by what seems to be two types of characters destined somehow for love: the single, controlling, uptight woman sparring with the rugged, unshaven, play as you go man until they realize they are so wrong for each other that they just may end up being right for each other. I am talking about every Katherine Heigl movie ever made. Zwick has taken a genre that I believed to be tired, stale, and altogether unoriginal, and made me find something to like about it once again.
Love and Other Drugs is the story of Maggie and Jamie. Maggie, played by Anne Hathaway, is a free spirit who does not like attachments or commitments of any kind hold her down. Maggie also suffers from Parkinson’s at the age of 26, which certainly complicates everything in her life, particularly her work as an artist. Her counterpart, Jamie, played by Jake Gyllenhaal who tries romantic lead and succeeds in this type of film, is a pharmaceutical rep who is a shark to say the least, both with women and within his profession. Everything changes for each when Jamie meets Maggie in a doctor’s visit, an examination for Maggie and a business venture for Jamie, beginning their complicated and involved story. What is so interesting about this film is that it is willing to tackle much more than a base romance. The two certainly take center stage, but there is also much more at play, most notably a social comment or two regarding the medical industry.
It is an indictment of the world of the pharmaceutical industry while also demonstrating how heartless and greedy insurance companies and doctors can be. It also looks more closely at those issues, including doctors who still mean well, attempting to show that medicine does not always have a black and white prescription for right or wrong. The entire system is flawed, and this film is not afraid to show how ugly the flaws can be. While the movie has its share of social motivations, romance is still at the heart of all that is on screen.
While the film still falls victim at times to genre clichés, it still has its shares of attempts at straying away from genre procedures. After several of the sex scenes, the leads do not always immediately even return to their perfectly placed sheets; they actually converse! The most important aspect of the film may simply be its believability. If we do not believe these two people can fall in love, if we do not actually think that what people say is uttered in a real world, real-life situation, then every film should just be about robots fighting aliens and demons for control of Cleveland. This movie works mainly because we can buy it. Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal each of whom turns in some of their best work, really lead the way for the film. Their chemistry is as good as it gets, and their performances are not feigned for the sake of a memorable movie line. It is not so sweet it will rot your teeth; it is so real it will make you think about you and your experiences. These two play vulnerable individuals who are doing the best to improve themselves and each other at the same time. Their lives are not immediately fixable, but because they ultimately need each other, everything is now doable because of that other person. They are awkward when they need to be, crazy for each other when they need to be, and just plain crazy between one another and it all feels right when they do it. I will use my quota for an over the top generalization when I pronounce these two the movie couple of the year.
I understand that the film still has its flaws and its clichés, but I think they are kept to a minimum, and at the very least, the film should be applauded for its willingness to feature adult conversations and adult behavior. My liking for this movie may be an overreaction to a terrible genre; I have not seen a likable romantic comedy all year. Love and Other Drugs most likely will not win any awards or nominations, but it deserves note for its willingness to inject life and attempt to try something fresh and novel, at least for the romantic comedy genre: trying to tell a story that resembles real life.