AFI FEST 2010 Festival Review: LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

Allison Loring

by: Allison Loring
November 5th, 2010

Rating: 3/5

Writers: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Jamie Reidy (book)
Director: Edward Zwick
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Gabriel Macht, and Josh Gad
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox

Based on the book by Jamie Reidy (“Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman”), LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS takes us back to 1996 when computer software development could make you rich overnight, the Internet was just taking off, and a little blue pill to help fix a hard problem had yet to be invented. The film takes on the ideas of sex, drugs, love, and how the lines between the effects of each can get blurred.

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a good-looking, incredibly charismatic guy, and he knows it. He uses this to his advantage at every turn, especially when it comes to women and sales. Jamie is your standard too-smart-for-his-own good guy who ends up taking whichever route is easiest. And for Jamie, that road brings him to pharmaceutical sales. As we watch Jamie fall head first into the temptation of travel, fast-paced success, and big commissions, it is obvious that these salesmen are not concerned with providing a product to help people, and they are not being trained to. They are memorizing facts to sell, sell, sell – and do so quicker than the guy waiting in line before them.

Jamie is the perfect fit for such a role and his irresistible magnetism, combined with his way with the ladies, quickly lands him a position in front of one of his territory’s most influential doctors, Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria). Dr. Knight seems to advocate for his patients and wants nothing to do with these salesmen at first, but as we get to know him, we realize that sex truly does sell.

Before Jamie can fully transform into the devil’s advocate, his new relationship with Dr. Knight gets him a prime spot in a patient visit with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) where she reveals more than she meant to in front of a stranger (and we’re not talking about her diagnosis here). Of course Maggie’s hate-on-sight reaction to Jamie is understandable given the circumstances, but like any good salesman, Jamie sees an opportunity for more sales (Maggie is a walking doctor rolodex) and sex. Surprisingly, Maggie sees through Jamie’s game and offers up exactly what he wants, no sales pitch needed.

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS has already gotten notice for the amount of skin shown throughout by our two leads, but it is in no way done in a gratuitous manner. There is an element of disconnectedness that penetrates these moments, and rightfully so, as Jamie and Maggie have made it clear (repeatedly) that they are not in this for true intimacy, they are just looking to lose themselves in each other for a few brief moments at a time. But, as it tends to happen, whenever you forge a connection with someone, particularly a physical one, you start to actually grow close.

Unfortunately, exactly when these two went from casual lovers to something more gets glossed over, not just by the standard “falling in love montage,” but also the almost bipolar way each would go from empty sex to sudden conversation. And even though it is clear that our leads spend the majority of their time together, it is only in their moments away from each other that they seemed to have a revelation, leading them to a sudden onset of emotion. But these moments don’t occur often enough to sustain the feeling of their relationship feeling more real and emotionally resonant.

I did wish we had seen more of Maggie’s struggle as her disease begins to become a bigger and bigger part of her life, and how her struggle begins to affect Jamie’s life as well. Clearly the crux of their relationship comes down to Maggie’s disease and how she uses it to push people away while Jamie allows it to be the excuse to keep his distance. But as it becomes more apparent that Maggie’s “good days” begin to outweigh her bad; the camera fades back when it was in these moments, painful as they were that I felt myself trying to lean in closer.

The film does succeed in subtly touching on how we as a society have become increasingly more and more dependent on prescription medication. Both Jamie and Maggie note at one point that they were diagnosed with ADD and put on Ritalin as young as 8 and 10. Years later, Maggie is now taking multiple forms of medication to help with her disease and medication to help the symptoms caused by her medication. It is a vicious circle and you begin to wonder, is all this medication really helping us? If you take the homeless man stealing Jamie’s discarded Prozac samples who suddenly cleaned himself up and got a job interview, the answer might be yes. But seeing as this moment was presented as more as a gag then a real commentary on the situation shows this is not a question with an easy answer.

Overall, I enjoyed LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, but it left me wanting a bit more. The real conversation that finally takes place between Jamie and Maggie finally hits on what we had been dancing around for the majority of the film, but it made me want to watch more of this stage of their relationship and question why we spent so much time getting here. Understandably, this is a story about two people who each have their own issues and end up finding their true strength in each other, but both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway seemed to shine so much more in these few minutes of honesty that I wanted to stay with the couple they were becoming to see where this new journey would take them.

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