- Burnaby, British Columbia - It is difficult to know how to begin this review, since it is equally as difficult to say what the heck this film was all about. On one hand, it is the story of the rise of Viagra on the sales rep level. On another hand, it is also a critique about the way that pharmaceuticals market their drugs to a society desperate for treatment. Furthermore, it is a tale about a couple dealing with the reality that one is afflicted by Parkinson's disease, while on yet another level, it is about a rather sexually charged, non-fairytale-like romance between a man and a woman. And yet on an even further level, it is a serious drama, but also an attempt at a comedy.
For these reasons, reviewing Love and Other Drugs is rather difficult, because it is hard to pinpoint which exactly it wanted to be and thereby judge it on those merits. The story mostly follows Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a womanizing electronics salesman with bigger aspirations, who finds himself moving into the pharmaceuticals sales industry for Pfizer, who would eventually become the producers of Viagra. That itself could be a story, but it tries to add on a romance between Jamie Randall and Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), who is a cynical, Parkinson's disease suffering, quasi-hippie. Except, Maggie at first only possesses revulsion towards Jamie and wants nothing to do with him, but through his persistence and her equal desire to shag him, the two become sexual lovers.
I say it with slight exaggeration, but nearly half of the film is Jamie and Maggie in the buff, which maybe shouldn't have surprised me, considering the film's marketing poster. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but wonder what any of it really added to the story, except maybe that their relationship was primarily based on their carnal lust for each other. Beyond that, I never got a sense of what exactly attracted them to each other beyond their desire to tangle in the sheets together.
The greatest problem with the film, however, was with the characters, who lacked anything for the audience to feel any empathy for. Sure, Maggie has Parkinson's disease, but that wasn't enough, since she seems to embrace a "woe is me" sentiment for almost all of the film. There is hardly anything redeeming about the characters, nor did I feel entirely convinced that the couple would have any hope of going the distance if they decided to actually commit to each other. Sure, love is supposed to be a universal experience and something that we can all connect with in stories, but simply put, if I had to choose between being single or having their romance, I would choose being single. The level of emotional manipulation in the film is entirely depressing with the romance seemingly following an order something akin to: boy adores girl; girl has no use for boy, but whatever; boy falls in love with girl; girl accepts boy's affections, but does not love him; boy finds girl disturbing, but girl thinks boy is an idiot for this; boy falls in love with girl again, while girl falls more for boy. Sounds somewhat normal so far? Well, just continue this, but through in periods where it feels like neither of the characters love each other or want each other.
I get it that with this film, we are reminded that not all romances are cookie-cutter perfect or of the "...and they lived happily ever after" ilk, but there was no pay off in this film (unless one went to see a naked Anne Hathaway or Jake Gyllenhaal?) and altogether it left me feeling very uneasy. At times, I wondered if it was supposed to be a story about dealing with Parkinson's disease in a young relationship, but often times, it felt like it was merely a secondary story line to the film. Maybe that is the best way I can describe this film: a story of secondary storylines without really possessing a central plot.
I've focused mostly on the main characters of Jamie and Maggie, thus I would be mistaken if I did not discuss the others in the film. Josh Randall (Josh Gad), the millionaire nerd brother of Jamie, appears to be a character without really anything to add to the story, save but for some attempt at comedic relief, which ultimately fails. The role was uninspiring and felt more like an effort in developing a new Jonah Hill for Hollywood, but what Josh Gad lacks is delivery. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of Jonah Hill, but at least he has comedic sensibilities and could define what comedic timing means. By the end of the film, the screenplay writer attempted to write an ending for Josh Randall's character. You know, one in which the character's experience and storyline make sense within the film, but ultimately, it failed. Instead, I felt like his ending was a cheap, last minute cop out in which we're all to excuse the potty-mouthed brother's problems.
And then who could forget the "secondary" storyline with Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) and Jamie Randall's pharmaceutical competitor, Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht)? Hannigan sells Prozac and has Dr. Knight in the palm of his hand, while Jamie seeks to get Zoloff into Dr. Knight's office by replacing the free Prozac samples with Zoloff samples. The storyline wants to be an important part of the overall story, whatever that may be, but ultimately, it is a sideshow distraction from God knows what? Neither of these characters were entirely convincing or believable, yet only managed to leave me feeling unsympathetic to either of them.
Love and Other Drugs, in my mind, was a failure. The greatest problem with it was simply the writing. It had high production values, but it didn't know what it was trying to be, which confuses the viewer and makes it a harder film to enjoy or critique. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway did what they could with the script, but I can hardly feel sympathetic to them as actors, since they had a choice whether or not to take on this film. If I were to title this film, it wouldn't be Love and Other Drugs, rather Other Stories and Love.
Rating: 1.5/5 Sour Grapes