Love and Other Drugs…Finally!

Ed Zwick‘s Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox, 11.24), which I saw earlier this evening, is first and foremost a hit. It’s charming and affecting and likable in a “good Eloi” sort of way, or in the way that cultivated mainstream audiences tend to go for. It’s sharp and polished and beautifully shot and acted and cut, and just grooves right along with sass and wit and generous nudity and undercurrents that are Jerry Maguire-ish at times.

I’m not claiming that the overall tone matches the James L. Brooksian brand in the classic ’80s sense, but it certainly flirts with this and does in fact reach that pinnacle from time to time. For my money Love and Other Drugs is Zwick’s finest film yet — hell, it is his best. But how ironic that he’s hit the jackpot by putting aside his passion for heavy historical dramas.

It’s a very tight and assured romantic dramedy (or “emotional comedy,” as post-screening moderator Elvis Mitchell put it tonight) that delivers an intensely sexual, emotional hair-trigger relationship story about two avoider-dodgers (played with wonderful verve and assurance by Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, both delivering the most appealing performances of their careers).

I’d been told that Hathaway’s performance is the killer, and it is, I suppose, because you can read every emotional tick and tremor on her face, and because your heart goes out to any character coping with a debilitating disease (stage-one Parkinson’s) and who wants to keep herself aloof and in control. But Gyllenhaal gives his most winning performance ever — not the deepest or darkest or saddest, perhaps, but 100% likable with no audience-alienation issues except for emotional avoidance. They’re quite a pair, these two. All you want is to see them keep it together and somehow make it work.


Love and Other Drugs costars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway following tonight’s screening at the Regal E-Walk on 42nd Street.

LAOD is set in mid ’90s Pittsburgh and partly based on James Reidy‘s “Hard Sell: Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” and has been co-written by Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and Charles Randolph.

It’s about Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal), a Phizer salesman on the make, and how he falls in with Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), an emotionally brittle and guarded (and yet openly sexual when so inclined) woman coping with the Big P, and how things brighten and then deepen for them and then get gnarly and strained and then fall apart, and…that’s all I’ll say. It’s set against the mid ’90s Viagra boom, which is introduced about 40 minutes into the narrative. Jamie has been selling Zoloft for Phizer with middling results, but when Viagra comes along it’s champagne-fizz time.

Oliver Platt plays Gyllenhaal’s mentor, and I wish he had more screen time because you can sense potential…but he isn’t quite allowed to bring anything home. Hank Azaria has a lightly layered, medium-sized role as a randy physician, and Judy Greer has a small part as Azaria’s sweet-tempered receptionist. George Segal and Jill Clayburgh play Gyllenhaal’s parents in one early scene and that’s all.

Josh Gad is Gyllenhaal’s Jonah Hill-ish younger brother — a boorish man-child fatso who reps the film’s only serious mistake. Gad is in another film entirely. His presence eventually got so bad that he turned me off just by being. He didn’t have to say a word.

Love and Other Drugs isn’t a deep-well soul film, but it plays its own game in a sharp and likable way, and sometimes quite movingly.

Or…whatever, it won’t qualify in that regard and will just please audiences and capture the admiration of most critics (apart from the Eric Kohn-Guy Lodge nitpick crowd) and make money hand over fist. And that’ll be enough. It’s not Alexander the Great. It just works, is all. LOAD has charm and pizazz and, okay, sometimes strained humor, and yet it never slows down or goes off the rails, or at least not to any worrisome degree.

So forget all that Bill McCuddy crap (passed along in this column on 9.7) about it being “a light romantic comedy” that is “mediocre” and “facing shaky prospects at the box-office.” The guy I spoke to last February about a Pasadena research screening was much closer to the mark.

And I’m not kidding about it having the potential to wangle its way into Best Picture contention. Unless, that is, certain people get pissy about it. A guy I talked to in the men’s room after the screening was going “eeew, it’s two different movies…eeew, it doesn’t blend…eeew, it veers too sharply between broad comedy and disease-anguish and hot sexuality and heartfelt love and heavy emotionalism.” So you can be Eric Kohn and go “no, no…I want something else! This doesn’t fit into my comfort-blanket idea of how movies like this are supposed to work.” And that’s fine, Eric. Go to town and send me a postcard,

LAOD isn’t any one thing, and that’s the fascination of it. It’s not dark enough to be The Apartment, it’s not easy and it’s not “farce” and it’s not just hah-hah funny, and it’s not dramedy as much as comedy with a thorny and guarded edge. The tone is farcical one minute, dry and glib the next, and then it devolves into Josh Gad-Jonah Hill-level humor, but thankfully not too often or for too long. And then it turns melancholy.


Love and Other Drugs director Ed Zwick, moderator Elvis Mitchell following tonight’s screening

Hathaway is so intense and hard-cased that she ups the movie’s overall game. We can spot her theme from the get-go. She doesn’t want a real love affair with anyone because she knows it’s not going to last because she’s doomed in the long run. We’re introduced to her as someone dealing with stage-one symptoms like intermittent jitters and losing the physical ability to use scissors and her taking drugs to control this, but her condition is never over-dramatized.

The film spends some time on the Parkinson’s effects. Maggie and Jamie go to a big drug fair in Chicago, and she discovers an alternative convention across the street focusing on organic Parkinson’s remedies, and goes over to this event. We see some real Parkinson’s people talking up their personal stuff the way the unemployed talked for Up In The Air, only on a stage with a mike. There are two or three scenes in which Maggie is shown taking senior citizens across the border to get cheaper drugs in Canada.

The core of the romance is Jake’s overcoming his shallow relationship history, and Anne overcoming her emotionally aloof thing. And both Hathaway and Gyllenhaal make their characters come vividly alive. It’s a pleasure to get to know them and share the time. I’m looking forward to catching this at least a couple more times.

55 thoughts on “Love and Other Drugs…Finally!

  1. I’m in love with your fat hatred in the Josh Gad paragraph. Vintage, vintage Wells. I don’t even care that I look more than a little like Josh Gad.

  2. Also this is a great review, and you forgot to mention that Zwick’s evolution includes finally getting a decent haircut.

  3. LOOK AT HER.

    I’m assuming no one in the movie bothers attempting a Pittsburgh accent, but allow me to also opine that NO MAN IN 1995 PITTSBURGH would’ve looked like Jake Gyllenhaal. They were still rocking the mullets and acid wash, and would be wearing either a Penguins or Steelers jersey in literally every scene. Hathaway would’ve still had mall hair in mid-90s PGH, because most fashions take five extra years to hit Western PA.

  4. This movie is a PERFECT example of how you can make an “eloi” genre like Romantic Dramedy GOOD simply by dropping the pretense and bullshit – there’s NOTHING about the setup, structure and character-arcs that isn’t Hollywood Romcom 101… but because it’s not PG13 skirting the edges i.e. sex, sexuality, language etc. it feels authentic.

  5. I had my doubts at first about this movie but your review definitely made up my mind. I’m seeing it. Anne Hathaway is an actress that I keep liking more and more (maybe it was the way she played the whole Oscar thing. She enjoyed the nomination, was grateful, had fun and made the most of it, knowing there was no way she could win). It’s funny you mention “The Apartment” because she strikes me as a Shirley Maclaine type of actress. She can go from comedy to drama without making me cringe. I really hope she is given good projects from now on.

  6. Hathaway is ALMOST as good as Kristen Stewart.

    That performance in RGM is pretty close to the best thing I’ve ever seen. Same, really, with her work in HAVOC.

  7. I too remember reading towards the end of filming that a production assistant said it was Hathaway’s best work so far.

    This is a much more competitive year for the best pic category. You are probably going to have 15-20 legit contenders. Some that may not get in that actually deserve it.

  8. Hey Jeff, what’s with the sudden Eric Kohn disdain? Not that I mind, but has he actually SAID anything or DONE anything to get you going? As it happens, I’ve been mildly disappointed in the way things have shaken out since his bold self-proclamation as The Voice Of A New Generation. He’s quickly established himself as pretty much the most eminently ignorable individual writing about film in any medium. And he looked like such an attractive punching bag at first, what with his being so smug, having such a conventional cast of mind, and writing so…the way he writes. But now it’s more, “why bother,” ’cause it’s not as if anyone cares, or that he can start any kind of conversation, anyway. So I was wondering. Guess we can talk about it when we talk about it.

  9. movie looks extremely slick and sexy. AH nudity is a plus, and I’ve always been a big fan of Jake. AH in Rachel is still the best female peformance of the last few years.

  10. jsw3000 , you are so accurate about Anne Hathaway. Hathaway possesses that similar quirky charm and intelligence of a young “Shirley MacLaine- plus they both can sing and dance. After seeing Anne’s splendid (critically-acclaimed) performance (Viola) of Shakespeare in the Park’s “Twelfth Night” two summers ago, I know she can do anything she artistically desires. I just hope she continues to attach herself to solid film material with the best directors- and do more theatre.

    P.S. I’m happy to hear about Jake Gyllenhaal’s wonderful acting performance in LAOD. He is the type of actor if you give him quality material – he will shine. I still enjoy watching his performances in : Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, Donnie Darko, and The Good Girl.

  11. Was Ed Zwick there at the screening passing out Kool Aid? Because Jeff drank heartily from the pitcher. There are a million things wrong with the tone and the brother and Azaria’s reprehensible Doctor and the Hallmark card old people in the bus and on and on and on. SPOLIER ALERT: But the one thing that makes it absolutely unbelievable is the Gyllenhaal character who never for one minute convinces me he has what it takes to ‘man-up’ and stick it out with the Hathaway character. Sorry Jeff. I wish I’d seen the movie you saw.

  12. I saw this last week, Fox has been having a ton of screenings in NY. It is funny and entertaining, Anne is excellent and the chemistry between the two leads if electric.

    However it is NOT Zwick’s best film. It is not better than Glory or Blood Diamond, don’t even think it is close really. It has potential to make the ten obviously and considering a picture like The Blind Side got in but this is not a better film than say Another Year, Kids Are All Right, or Toy Story 3.

    Also a lot of the musical cues really annoyed the hell out of me in this movie in terms of both the soundtrack and the score.

  13. To begin, I’m on Team Wells, I’m seeing this, and I hope it’s great– huge Hathaway fan, in every way possible (ahem).

    That said, I’ll repeat what I wrote before about this:

    Wait a second… Stage One Parkinson’s is the big bad disease?

    One word: bullshit.

    I have a close family member with Parkinson’s. He’s had it for years with little in the way of symptoms, and those are treated with medication. It’s not like ALS where it’s a rapidly progressing disease– it affects every sufferer differently, but nobody knows how it’s going to affect you: you could have ten years, twenty, thirty before it gets to the worst stages, if ever.

    Sure, Hathaway is young, but she’s fearing something that could leave her in dire straits, what, 20 years from now?

    I stand by that.

  14. Beg to differ, but there were (and still are) segments in 1995 PITTSBURGH that were pretty smokin’ hot. Carnegie Mellon, Shady Side, Oakmont, Squirrel Hill … the early 90s in Pittsburgh was also a tech renaissance that saw a lot of new blood come to the city … from California no less.

    You will BOW to the Steel City.

  15. LAOD is a hit in the same way The Social Network is/was a cultural phenom and zeitgeist contender?

    TheMovieBob nailed it. The trailer doesn’t really imply everything that was praised in the film. The depth, the nuance and the adult/mature nature was completely avoided. That could backfire or it may end up not mattering at all. All the same, it’s waaaay early to call this sucker a ‘hit’. It’s been quite a while since an R rated, romantic dramedy conquered the box office.

  16. Wells to Barnes78: In what way did I even vaguely hint that LAOD might be “a hit in the same way The Social Network is/was a cultural phenom and zeitgeist contender”? I said nothing of the kind. Read the words: “Charming and affecting and likable in a ‘good Eloi’ sort of way, or in the way that cultivated mainstream audiences tend to go for.”

  17. Jeff, you’re right. That wasn’t what I meant to suggest. I should have clarified a bit. My goal was to use the reference as a parallel as opposed to a similarity. To me, declaring LAOD a hit before it’s released is on par with pronouncing TSN a cultural phenom before it actually had the chance to mingle with the culture. As much as I enjoyed TSN, I’m starting to think it may have peaked too soon for the Oscars.

  18. >GLORY is a “great movie” only to total squares.

    He didn’t say it was great, just that it was likely to be better than this. No idea if that’s accurate.

    Pretty much everything Zwick does is aimed at total squares, but that said, Glory transcends itself in a few scenes — the regiments’ first real skirmish; the last moments on the beach as Broderick lets his horse go; Denzel’s defiant expression during corporal punishment; etc.

    It’s a deeply on-the-nose movie, but it lands where it needs to land and earns its emotions.

  19. Just got back from seeing this as the opening night entry of the AFI Festival.

    What a disappointment, after this glowing review you posted.

    Could not agree more with Billy and Bill McCuddy. There is absolutely no way LAOD will be an Oscar contender in ANY category. This is a strictly formula film all the way, with tonal problems up the wazoo. The Gyllenhaal character is completely tiresome and juvenile, and as an actor he simply lacks gravitas. Perhaps Zwick is a lovely man, but his direction is all over the map. And despite the gratuitous nudity and sex scenes — AH’s breasts ARE lovely — this will not be a hit.

    Lastly, the Josh Gad character has got to be the most grating supporting character in any movie in recent memory. Those scenes — with one in particular involving a videotape — are just insufferable, and there are way too many.

    Grade: C

  20. Could not agree more with Billy and Bill McCuddy. There is absolutely no way LAOD will be an Oscar contender in ANY category. This is a strictly formula film all the way, with tonal problems up the wazoo. The Gyllenhaal character is completely tiresome and juvenile, and as an actor he simply lacks gravitas. Perhaps Zwick is a lovely man, but his direction is all over the map. And despite the gratuitous nudity and sex scenes — AH’s breasts ARE lovely — this will not be a hit.642-359 \ 642-972 \ NS0-154 \ OG0-093 \ 642-504

  21. Could not agree more with Billy and Bill McCuddy. There is absolutely no way LAOD will be an Oscar contender in ANY category. This is a strictly formula film all the way, with tonal problems up the wazoo. The Gyllenhaal character is completely tiresome and juvenile, and as an actor he simply lacks gravitas. Perhaps Zwick is a lovely man, but his direction is all over the map. And despite the gratuitous nudity and sex scenes — AH’s breasts ARE lovely — this will not be a hit.642-359 \ 642-972 \ NS0-154 \ OG0-093 \ 642-504

  22. I saw it at the Woodstock Film Festival earlier in the month and I was underwhelmed. David Denby wrote a piece on underdramatization in what he called the Cinema of

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    Observation where he offered a new criticism of cinematic realism. He argued, in essence, that not enough ‘happened’ dramatically in films of this ilk.

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    And while W&L isn’t exactly like Smart People and other films he referenced, it’s not an experimental film either. Yes, we emphasize with her suffering but I needed more there there.

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