Director Edward Zwick’s Love & Other Drugs (2011) is an interesting movie, an adult love story that has more depth than most of the romantic comedies we see from Hollywood these days. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, who becomes a pharmaceutical sales rep for Pfizer in the mid 90s. Jamie is a smooth talker and a ladies man, and he uses these skills to charm doctor’s assistants into letting him talk to their bosses. He tries to convince them to prescribe Zoloft instead of Prozac, so he can meet his sales goals and get a prime gig in Chicago. On one of his excursions he meets a patient named Maggie, who is suffering from early onset Parkinson’s.
The two have a one-night stand, and initially, neither partner is eager to pursue a relationship. Jamie has never been able to commit, and Maggie doesn’t think anyone can either see past her illness, or deal with the issues associated with it. Meanwhile, a new drug called Viagra is developed, and Jamie becomes a great success selling it. As he develops deeper feelings for Maggie, Jamie tries to show her his feelings are genuine. Maggie tries to come to terms with her feelings about her illness, and finds some empathy and kindred spirits while attending a medical convention with Jamie.
Gyllenhall is good as Jamie, a guy who’s coasted by most of his life on good lucks & charisma, who now has to deal with a real relationship for the first time in his life. Hathaway is excellent as Maggie; she gives a three dimensional portrait of a person struggling with an illness, and the perceptions society has about ‘sick’ people. The script is co-written by director Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz & Charles Randolph. Zwick & Herskovitz were the co-creators of TV’s Thirtysomething (1987-1991), and their writing here has the same strengths (such as strong dialogue & realistic situations) that were the hallmark of that series. An additional note: while the movie is based on the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy, the love story portrayed in the film is nowhere to be found in the book. However, the details of how the pharmaceutical industry trains its salespeople, and markets its products, add another interesting facet to the story.
Sadly, the movie is saddled with a pointless subplot about Jamie’s well to do brother, who moves in with him after being kicked out by his wife. Essentially, the character allows the movie to indulge in the crude humor and silliness that are more at home in recent films like Bad Teacher or Hall Pass. There’s nothing wrong with that type of comedy, but it has no place in this film, and it hurts the rhythm of the main story. You feel like you’re watching two movies, and the hybrid just doesn’t gel. The movie is still worth a look for the performances of Gyllenhaal & Hathaway, and the fine supporting cast, including such familiar faces as Hank Azaria & Oliver Platt. Director Zwick also makes good use of music in the film, using songs of the period from groups like the Spin Doctors & Fatboy Slim. But the movie's struggle to balance its two sides ultimately makes it a near miss. The film is now available on Blu-Ray & DVD.