Love and Other Drugs was released almost a month ago in the United States, leaving the rest of us with quite a wait. Fortunately, we’ve had several weeks of accounts of rampant nudity and sex to keep us going. In fact, the nudity is all that some interviewers and critics have mentioned, as if it’s something remarkable. Perhaps it would be in your run-of-the mill RomCom but maybe Love and Other Drugs isn’t all that run of the mill.
I admit I’m biased – having followed the filming through on Wet Dark and Wild, I have a certain attachment to the project, not to mention a deep liking for Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. How good then to see a film in which they’re not only together again, but this time they can bare the sight of one another and can’t keep their hands off. When you are biased, it makes you breathe a sigh of relief when you discover you haven’t been misleading yourself. Mind you, it’s hard to go wrong when you have co-stars with this kind of chemistry.
Love and Other Drugs tells the story of Jamie Randall, a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer in 1996 who ends up selling a drug suited to his special talents – Viagra. At the beginning of the film we see him learn his skills egged on by his brother (Josh Gad) and manager (Oliver Platt). Doctors and receptionists are his prey. Randall just has to discover what they want. But when Randall meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) a young woman with Stage 1 Parkinson’s Disease, everything turns on its head for Jamie. Not at once. They both put up quite a fight, turning instead towards communication through sex and being naked together. And eating and taking photographs and learning about what makes the other breathe without realising that’s what they’re doing. That’s what love is all about.
Directed by Ed Zwick, this film is not a conventional RomCom. It doesn’t follow the traditional RomCom path and there is uncertainty about how the story will end – both within the movie and longer term as the two immensely likeable characters confront what they love and hate about each other and their situation.
Matters come to a head at an Un-Convention held by and for those with Parkinson’s. Maggie is inspired by motivational talks about life lived with the disease, while Jamie hears the other side of the story from a longtime carer. Fear marks the relationship of these two people. One wants to give at just the moment when the other takes a step back. Back and forth.
This is not a perfect film. The second half doesn’t quite fit with the first. The movie starts off as one thing – with an opening scene I thoroughly enjoyed – but control was lost to some extent. This mirrored Jamie’s inner conflict and his big character change but it also made the structure clunky. Scenes such as the ‘pyjama party’ were fun but they seemed squeezed in during a convenient gap in Jamie and Maggie’s relationship.
The supporting actors were superb. My only complaint was that Hank Azaria was not made use of nearly as much as I would have liked but otherwise Azaria, Platt, Judy Greer, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht and Katheryn Winnick did indeed give Jake and Anne a solid wall from which to hang their own performances.
The 1990s feel of the movie is sharp, the soundtrack pulses through the good and less good songs of the year (why no soundtrack album?) and the script is wordy and tight. Gyllenhaal proves that he is a master of comedy, combining feeling, emotion and roaring laughs and geekiness as few others can. Annie Hathaway disappears into this young lost woman – witty and cold and frightened – and at the helm we have Ed Zwick.
In the UK, where Love and Other Drugs opens on 29 December, the film is certificated a 15. Other fine films, such as The Kids Are All Right, have contained more nudity than this and it has not been made such a fuss off. I’m hoping that when the movie opens here it will be the word of mouth about the story and the wonderful actors (both nominated for Golden Globes for this) that will get people into seats.
Love and Other Drugs is one of those rare movies during which you can laugh and cry within just one scene. Life can be like that.
I was fortunate enough to attend the London press conference for Love and Other Drugs on 11 November. You can read my account at Bleeding Cool.