Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: "Love and Other Drugs"

Here's a fairly conventional romantic drama that does a fantastic job of showing off the charms of two very attractive performers, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. It's almost a throwback to an old-fashioned type of movie-making in which stars were stars, and it was the job of the director, screenwriter and crew to make them look as good as possible.

"Love and Other Drugs" is set in the late 1990s when Viagra first hit the market, and Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, the salesman who was born to hock it. Good-looking and with a rogue-ish charm that he uses to great effect, Jamie has a twinkly smile that melts the heart of the orneriest receptionist guarding access to the doctors he needs to pitch.

Jamie comes from a family of physicians (George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh play the parents) but was a med school washout. Even his slovenly younger brother Josh (Josh Gad) is a dot-com millionaire.

He's eager to please -- "I'm very trainable" is his pet phrase -- and hides his self-loathing behind a charismatic veneer built on can-do ambition.

Jamie's not above playing dirty. A Pfizer man, he dumps the drug samples from his chief competitor from Lily (Gabriel Macht) into the dumpster, and bribes an influential doc (Hank Azaria) to let him tag along on patient rounds, posing as an intern.

There he meets Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), a waitress with Parkinson's and an attitude. After baring her breast during the exam, she clocks Jamie in the head upon learning he's a pharmaceutical rep.

In classic meet-cute form, in moments he transforms her anger into admiration for his magnetism. Soon they're in bed, but Maggie lays out the rules: Just empty sex, no relationship. I don't think I have to tell you this rule gets shattered.

Director Edward Zwick, who co-wrote the script with Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, is better known for testosterone-laden flicks with a martial bent ("Courage Under Fire," "Glory"). His touch is light and sure, and he knows how to give Hathaway and Gyllenhaal that extra bit of star sparkle.

Maggie's disease, which is merely a reason for them to meet initially, takes on more weight as the narrative adopts an increasingly somber tone. The similarity to "Love Story" -- about a young cad who grows up when his lady has a life-changing illness -- is more than passing.

They're a solid pair of performances, as the actors show us layers to their characters we might not have initially guessed at.

They're also revealing in another way -- as in both actors show off an astonishing amount of skin. I can't remember the last time I saw two mainstream stars partaking in this much nudity.

The supporting performances are tidy and worthwhile. Oliver Platt plays Jamie's senior partner, who's hoping to ride his coattails to a spot in the Chicago office. Judy Greer is a slightly awkward receptionist who falls prey to Jamie's charms.

Azaria gets one nice scene where the doctor laments dealing with HMOs, drug companies and litigious lawyers instead of just making people's lives a little better.

Gad is the go-to man for comic relief, moving in with Jamie after his own marriage fails. Although, as Jamie himself finally thinks to ask, why does a multi-millionaire need to shack up with his brother?

"Love and Other Drugs" is sweet, funny, sad and occasionally even moves us a little. Despite the title, it doesn't really have anything insightful to say about drug companies making a profit by having doctors pump us full of medicine that may not even help us very much.

Call this movie a pleasant little placebo -- it may not make the world a better place, but it tastes good going down.

3 stars out of four

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