A mutant beast of a fluff film, Love and Other Drugs is an interesting, semi-doomed bunch of movies. It wants to move in multiple directions under the potentially lucrative umbrella of the “RomCom” domain, applying that now-formulaic mix of sex, romance, and easygoing comedy, with enough tension in the narrative to keep things going for 90 to 120 minutes. But here, elements of edgy, relevant satire are also tossed into the salad, with a theme about the dubious doings of pharmaceuticals and their aggressive marketing schemes. It wants a piece of the social-satire pie, akin to Thank You for Smoking, but keeps getting derailed by the romantic comedy gods. What’s a movie to do?
Thankfully, coyness is not one of its problems. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are poised as the film’s resident carnal animals and aren’t shy about shedding garments and getting into the geometry and machinery of onscreen sex. That very body candor in the film, in fact, works well vis-à-vis the fact that illness and travails requiring prescription drugs amount to an important thematic tentacle in the plot. Gyllenhaal plays a salesman with a “singing dick,” who falls into the drug rep world working for Pfizer, just before the mega-company unveils the miracle drug Viagra. Hathaway plays a beautiful stage-one Parkinson’s sufferer coming to terms with her own illness and cynical worldview. She initiates the first sexual romp with typical frankness, suggesting that Gyllenhaal’s sexual avarice—and, by extension, her own—is all about “finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you.”
There are many reasons to see this movie, from voyeuristic titillation to sniggering bad-boy humor to romantic warm fuzzies and a valiant focus on the realities of Parkinson’s. Ultimately, though, it comes apart at the seams, lurching toward a forced happy ending and a sense of lost narrative compass readings. (On a side note, early in the film, we catch a fleeting glimpse of the wonderful Jill Clayburgh, in her final acting job before her death from leukemia last month.)