Monday, March 7, 2011

Seth watches rom-tragi-coms so you don't have to

My wife and I watched "Love and Other Drugs" last night. It was mainly her idea, although she ended up hating it far more than I did. Here is my quick summary: "Love and Other Drugs" is to "Jerry Maguire" as "The Story of Us" is to "When Harry Met Sally."

Okay, I will explain. With another analogy. At its best, "Love" is to pharmaceutical representatives what "Maguire" was to sports agents. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a drug rep working his way up through the Pfizer corporation. The film gives us a slightly insidery view of the cozy and weird relationship between drug reps and doctors -- how drug reps visit doctors' offices constantly and hand out company umbrellas and pens and lunches and vacation packages so that the doctors will give out drug samples to their patients. It's stuff you basically know is going on but is rarely shown in a mainstream film. And as far as that goes, it's great. Gyllenhaal is funny, charismatic, oversexed, etc.

And then, like Jerry Maguire, he has an epiphany. This time, the epiphany is love; he's hopelessly enamored of Anne Hathaway's character Maggie, a patient who's in the early stages of Parkinson's disease. The irony is clear: here's a guy who can easily obtain basically any girl and any miracle cure he wants, but he's in love with a woman with an incurable disease.

So the film kind of has three main plots running through it: Gyllenhaal's rise within big pharma, his cute-but-increasingly-tragic relationship with Hathaway, and a comic relief plot involving Josh Gad, who play's Gyllenhaal's brother. Each of these plots would make a decent short film, but they don't really complement each other particularly well here. The comic relief plot, while genuinely funny, just seems less and less connected with the rest of the film as it becomes more emotional.

This is where the film reminds me of "The Story of Us," where you had a solid cast dealing with actual human drama, but the comic relief, while very funny, seemed completely unrelated to the main plot. Basically, it failed where "Harry Met Sally" succeeded. It's like watching "Casablanca," but the satellite channel keeps switching over to "Duck Soup" every few minutes.

Meanwhile, the romantic plot just gets heavier, especially when Gyllehaal gets some jarring advice from an older man who's been married to a Parkinson's victim for 25 years. The film is really hitting on a serious concept here, and it's almost like the writers and the cast just didn't want to deal with it head on.

Anyway, not totally successful, but enjoyable enough in parts. And I do appreciate that Gyllenhaal is cast as a romantic lead with a hairy chest.

Update: Andrew Therriault nails the film as a 90s period piece starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Ethan Hawke.

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