09 December 2010

Review: "Love and Other Drugs"

We all know when Anne Hathaway supposedly became an artist and not just an actress. She was phenomenal in Rachel Getting Married (2008) and deserved her Oscar nomination. But she followed that with Bride Wars (2009) and her credibility has been misplaced ever since. She was great alongside Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada (2006) but that was in the bubble of a romantic comedy. Love and Other Drugs reunites Hathaway with her Brokeback Mountain co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, who also has had some clunkers (Prince of Persia, anyone?). Love and Other Drugs wants to be a serious drama and a romantic comedy all at once and fails at both. The relationship between their two characters is unable to achieve emotional cohesiveness because it is overshadowed by his shallow and gimmicky attempts to win favour with women as a drug representative. It is directed by Edward Zwick who has directed some very dramatic films, such as Glory (1989), Courage Under Fire (1996) and Blood Diamond (2006), which may explain why the romantic comedy element of the film does not mesh very well with its dramatic overtones. He also co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on the book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal offer convincing performances, but Love and Other Drugs struggles to manage its comedic and dramatic elements.

Set during the 1990s, Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) is the unfocused son of doctors whose older brother made millions online. He is a terrific salesman but his penchant for women is often his undoing. Jamie becomes a pharmaceutical representative for Pfizer and travels the Ohio valley trying to convince doctors to prescribe Zoloft instead Prozac, its chief competitor. He turns to shameless flirting with receptionists to gain access to the doctors. The most sought after doctor is Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria) and his receptionist Cindy (Judy Greer) is easily seduced by Jamie. During one of his visits he is allowed to observe a patient, Maggie Murdock (Hathaway). It turns out she suffers from early onset Parkinson's disease. She wants a one night stand but he begins to fall in love with her. Their relationship begins to grow as he starts selling a brand new drug, Viagra. He becomes very successful selling Viagra but Maggie is still unwilling to let herself fall in love with Jamie.

I am not trying to say that it is impossible, or even all that difficult, for a film to blur the line between comedy and drama. Some of Woody Allen's most successful films were so brilliant because his films felt so natural. The problem with Love and Other Drugs is that there is a real dichotomy between the two genres. The film wants to be rooted in a romantic comedy when Jamie is playing the role of salesman, but it then wants to change gears and become a heavy drama when he is falling in love with Maggie. It is hard to become emotionally involved in the film because the comedic elements are at odds with the drama. Sure, it was funny when Maggie stripped naked in front of Jamie's brother, but it did nothing to further their relationship. The performances from Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are good and it is a shame that the film fails them. Unlike Rachel McAdams, Anne Hathaway has already been granted leading actress status, but much like the Canadian, she had done very little to merit it. For a film released during the fall when studios are lobbying for Oscar nominations we as an audience should expect more from a film that received so much hype.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

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