First comes love, and then comes consequences. In the romantic comedy Love & Other Drugs we meet Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) a cutthroat young businessman who will play every card at his disposal to make the sale. On the face of it he’s hardly romantic hero material, but this movie really wants to sell you a new kind of boy meets girl tale.
When Jamie meets Maggie (Irish American actress Anne Hathaway) he’s drawn to her beauty and her free spirited ways. But as a young artist, she refuses to let anything or anyone tie her down. Maggie has a secret -- she’s suffering from early onset Parkinson’s Disease.
As romantic set-ups go, this one’s fairly unusual. Perhaps that explains why it attracted two megawatt stars currently at the top of their careers to the project.
Directed by Ed Zwick, a filmmaker known more for his action adventure blockbusters like The Last Samurai (with Tom Cruise) and Blood Diamond (with Leonardo Di Caprio) Love & Other Drugs is a big budget crowd pleaser with a touching storyline at its heart.
“Ed took it to another level,” Gyllenhaal tells the Irish Voice at a press conference to promote the film on Saturday.
“I mean, Anne and I worked for eight days making Brokeback Mountain and this production lasted months. Beyond that it was our love story in this film. Sometimes there’s chemistry between people, and we just vibed from the minute we met as actors -- intellectually too.”
Complicating the will-they-won’t-they-get-together formula between the two leads is a remarkably searing portrait of American drug manufacturers (in this case Pfizer, the manufacturers of Viagra) and the kind of ethical corner cutting that goes on when profit, not people, are the bottom line.
The film pulls no punches establishing what a (excuse the pun) pill Jamie really is. Professionally and personally he’s prepared to say or do almost anything in the pursuit of his own fulfillment.
But even when he meets his all his business targets and makes the big bucks we observe how empty his victories really are. Money and casual sex, he discovers, are no match for love and commitment.
As Jamie fights against his own best nature and Maggie fights against hers, the attraction that brings them together threatens to blossom into something deeper that neither of them can handle.
Both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are terrific in their respective roles. In fact the chemistry between them is so palpable you may wonder if their romance has spilled over into their personal lives as well.
And if the director and screenwriters had been content to let the two stars navigate their relationship, then Love & Other Drugs might have been the game-changer romance it aims to be.
Instead we also sit through an interesting but incidental takedown of the American drug industry and its machinations (would you be surprised to discover they don’t have your best interests at heart?)
Weirdly, the movie also veers into the gross out comedy terrain of films like American Pie courtesy of a diverting performance by Josh Gad, who plays Gyllenhaal’s less attractive brother Josh.
The early reports are true. There is indeed a lot of nudity in Love & Other Drugs, and for the most part it really is central to the plot, but all the comedy elements seemed designed to distract us from a simple truth -- two gorgeous people have fallen in love and one of them has an incurable debilitating disease that will eventually incapacitate her for the rest of her life.
It’s a grim enough reality check, but it seems the director and writers don’t want to confront it head on without retreating back into comedy to lighten the mood. The film suffers from this lack of resolve. By taking the focus of the dilemma faced by the leads, the film often loses its capacity to engage you.
Gyllenhaal knows the simplicity of the central story line would be enough to sell this film 100 times over, and neither he nor Hathaway are served by a director and studio hedging its bets to pull the widest audience.
In the end Love & Other Drugs isn’t one movie, it’s three -- the affecting story of a budding romance complicated by incurable illness; a satire on amoral capitalism gone wrong; and a peek through your fingers gross-out comedy. One of those choices would really have been enough.