Thursday, November 25, 2010

Anne Hathaway's Breasts, Jake Gyllenhaal's Butt And A Great Story All Make Love And Other Drugs Eminently Memorable!

The Good: Acting, Characters, Story
The Bad: The final third has serious pacing issues.
The Basics: Love And Other Drugs is more than just a delightful fantasy for fans of Anne Hathaway, it is one of Edward Zwick's best works!

My wife has a real beef with me, one which put me going to the movies without her on Thanksgiving. It seems, early in our relationship two years ago, as we were courting one another, I told the woman I had just met that I had more than a little thing for Anne Hathaway. I suppose it probably happened when she tried to get me to watch Hoodwinked our first weekend together and that's when I probably said, "That would be great; I love Anne Hathaway." Ugh. That has been haunting me since and my wife is very unhappy whenever I want to see any film with Hathaway (though we made it through Alice In Wonderland together just fine earlier this year!). So, when I was taking the car today while my wife was at work, it was with disbelief she looked at me when I told her "I want to see Love And Other Drugs because I like Edward Zwick's other works!" Sure, Hathaway is a big selling point for me, but last year, Edward Zwick had a perfect film with Defiance and that type movie always gets me to go to the next film by the director.

Love And Other Drugs was on its way to hitting "perfect film" status with me as well, but then the film hits a weird wall in the final third and the pacing and plot go into a wonky, dead zone that saps the life out of it. Unfortunately, the more I consider the film, the more I am forced to confess that I have no clue how to fix the film. Honestly, Love And Other Drugs seemed like it was going the way of the charming romance and would end one of three ways: a breakup, a happy ending (until I actually heard that Maggie had Parkinson's, I thought the reference early in the film to unintended benefits to prescription drugs would yield a surprise cure for Maggie from Viagra), or the inevitable tragedy. Zwick and his co-writers, Marshall Herskovitz and Charles Randolph, go a different way but not before dragging the audience through a more plot-predictable section that left me feeling disappointed. And believe me, that's something I never expected to say in a movie that offered me pretty much all of the Anne Hathaway I could want (at least while still being married!). Fortunately, Zwick and Hathaway (and entirely surprising for me, Jake Gyllenhaal) make a movie that is largely satisfying and is one that ought to endure through Oscar Pandering Season at the box office.

From the moment the film starts with the distinctive chords of the Spin Doctors' "Two Princes," Love And Other Drugs establishes a very firm time and place in 1996 and 1997 as Pfizer exploded its profits by releasing Viagra. The film is a Zwick/Herskovitz dramedy that utilizes many elements that viewers have come to expect from the great team. There is a lot of humor, the film is sexy as hell and the characters have more depth than most films that are under two hours long.

Jamie Randall is an electronics salesman who is exceptional with the ladies and with selling. After he has an affair with his boss's girlfriend in the store, he is fired. After a stifling dinner with his vastly more successful family, Jamie goes to work for Pfizer, selling Zoloft and Zanex to health professionals. Stuck in the mid-Ohio region, Jamie is pressured to meet near-impossible quotas under the tutelage of Bruce Winston. Jamie's big target, that can help him meet all of the quotas, is Dr. Stan Knight. After several bad attempts to get into Knight's office, Jamie succeeds and there he meets Maggie Murdock, a 26 year-old who has been suffering the onset of Stage 1 Parkinson's Disease.

Beaten up a bit by Maggie, Jamie becomes fascinated by her and organizes a date with her. Despite analyzing the meeting for exactly what it is, an attempt to hook up, Maggie goes for Jamie and soon they are frequently frolicking together. But then, Jamie manages to get exactly what he needs for his job, which is to be one of the first salespeople for Viagra. As Jamie becomes very successful, he actually falls in love with Maggie and becomes more devoted to helping her through her rough future. But Maggie does not want Jamie's love, which she mistakes as pity, and the two are cast into more turbulent emotional waters.

Love And Other Drugs is charming and surprisingly deep and much of it has to do with the casting and the direction from Edward Zwick. The story starts as very much a typical "boy meets girl" romance and frankly, Jamie is not initially likable. As well, Maggie is not terribly likable as she is angry at the world and at Jamie. She is initially characterized as deeply intelligent and self-aware and the first scene they share reminds one of the way the protagonist from The Social Network spoke. Maggie psychoanalyzes Jamie and the way he approaches all relationships. She has his number from the very beginning and from the moment they start to move toward a relationship, the viewer is rooting for them. We root for them not from a sense of artifice; not just because these are the two stars or two incredibly good-looking people, but because they have enough to bond with to start a genuine relationship. In this regard, Love And Other Drugs truly satisfies.

What is odd is how on the surface Love And Other Drugs is an indictment of Big Pharma, while it still manages to plug it. The pharmaceutical companies are taken to task for prioritizing men's erections over Parkinson's research and rightly so. In this way, Zwick continues his trend toward social commentary in his films and that succeeds wonderfully. But throughout the first half, a supplemental character is thrown in who benefits greatly from the use of Prozac, which Jamie is throwing out. So, while the movie seems to be pro-Voloft, it has a strange undertone plugging Prozac.

And as for my salacious title, yes, there is quite a bit of nudity in Love And Other Drugs. The thing is, actors and actresses frequently mention that they will only do nudity if it is germane to the story. Fortunately, if that was one of Anne Hathaway's hangups, she picked a film that starts with some of the most sensible nudity and moves onto the delightfully gratuitous. Hathaway and Zwick push nudity in the beginning as a character aspect. In fact, when Hathaway's Maggie bares her breast to Dr. Knight, she does it with a fearless quality that is absolutely indicative of her character's strength. Maggie is forthright and the way she reacts to learning Jamie is just a sales rep and not an intern, is delightful and holds up for her character. After that, there are several scenes with Jamie and Maggie in bed and those frequently lead to more character development between the two.

In fact, one of the most delightful moments of the film involves the conversation that comes when Jamie and Maggie do not have sex the first time. Sometimes, that type scene is an inevitable plot point, but in Love And Other Drugs, the scene works. Between that and the moment that Maggie demands Jamie tell her five good things about himself flesh out the two characters in ways that make viewers want to see more of them. Jamie's humanity is brought out, as well, by the way he treats his brother Josh. Josh starts with great wealth, but a severe deficiency of ambition when his marriage falls apart and Jamie takes him in.

When the movie goes into a seminar on the effects of Parkinson's Disease, Zwick scores some high emotional points, but unfortunately, after that the film falls apart. The character choices are not as compelling and I began to feel cheated. The reason my emotional reaction was so very strong was that far earlier in the film, I found myself actually caring for the characters and that is a true gift in film today.

Zwick and his team also deserve a lot of credit for the casting and the use of their actors. Anne Hathaway, despite my obvious bias toward her, is fabulous as Maggie. She is funny and heartwrenching and she is easy to watch. Her facial expressions are great as she creates Maggie as a quirky and direct character. When she has Maggie twitch from her flare-ups of Parkinson's, the viewer buys it completely. And she has great on-screen chemistry with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal works some surprising magic for the viewer. If this year's Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time had him as a flat action hero who was difficult to watch for his monolithic qualities, Love And Other Drugs provides him with a rebirth for the charismatic side of the actor. Beyond his shining eyes and winning smile, Gyllenhaal is delightful with his deliveries and he plays both the fun and the strength of his character well. The serious elements of Jamie's character would not be viable were it not for Gyllenhaal's acting, but there never came a moment when he is facing Hathaway and trying to project the idea that he is a solid guy and he doesn't land it.

Zwick is also smart with the casting of the supplemental characters. Hank Azaria is solid as Dr. Knight and Zwick's use of Oliver Platt is wonderful. Indeed, one of the most wonderful, subtle moments in the film happens in the first five minutes when Jamie and Bruce are sitting side by side and we realize that Platt's Bruce is just the aged version of Jamie! That is genius casting. And even if Josh Gad just seems to be lining himself up as the next Jonah Hill, his scenes as Josh in the film are good.

Ultimately, what Love And Other Drugs has going for it is a good story, well presented with characters that endure well after the final credits roll. For all my wife's accusations that I still hold a torch for Hathaway, the strength of the film might be most in the fact that the longer I watched the film alone, the more I missed my wife and felt eager to see her again. Love And Other Drugs captures perfectly the excitement of real romance and will make one want to be with the one they love. And with rising ticket prices at the movie theaters, it is arguably the best film for adults to spend their time and money on this Oscar Pandering (or holiday) Season!

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Valentine's Day
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Rachel Getting Married
The Princess Diaries


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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