Given how consistently misleading the ads for Love and Other Drugs have been, it's hard to know what's fair to reveal about the plot. Does anyone even know that it's a movie set in the 90s? Or that it combines comedy and drama in a heady, frequently effective way? Or-- and this may be the biggest spoiler, though it's revealed in the first 20 minutes of the film-- that Anne Hathaway's character isn't just a cutie with brown ringlets, but a 26-year-old sufferer of early onset Parkinson's disease?
It's no surprise that Fox is playing keepaway with the truth about Love and Other Drugs-- no studio ever believes that an audience buying in to watch Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal make out can handle the side effect of degenerative disease-- but it is a shame, since the movie they have is substantially more interesting than the one they're advertising. Unfortunately it's also not as good as what it promised; though writer-director Ed Zwick has made a refreshingly frank and adult dramedy about the promises and consequences of long-term relationships, the shaky script and complete cop-out of a third act deny the film its vast potential. The result is only slightly above average, bearing all the signs of something that could have been great.
Based very loosely on Jamie Ready's memoir about working for Pfizer at the start of the Viagra-led pharmaceutical boom, Love and Other Drugs puts Jake Gyllenhaal's toothy charm front and center, a newbie drug rep who knows perfectly well that sex appeal is the way to sell heart medication to doctors and their easily wooed assistants. Living in a shitty beige apartment in the Ohio River Valley while he gets his start in the business, Jamie meets cute with Parkinson's patient Maggie (Hathaway) during a sales call, and once he figures out she's also only in it for good sex and no strings attached, the two start bonking in her ridiculously well-appointed loft. There's plenty of nudity to behold, and Zwick shoots the sex scenes in a way that perfectly toes the line between hot and icky; watching the two of them lounging naked in bed, giggling and teasing each other as often as they make out, the depth of Jamie and Maggie's relationship is established remarkably quickly.
Those scenes are a far better use of the R-rating than the schtickier stuff that comes later in the film, as Jamie starts making real cash by selling Viagra and slips into a hot tub with random hotties instead of facing the responsibility of being with Maggie as her Parkinson's symptoms get worse. Jamie faces that age-old dilemma between ambition and love, except that in this case love comes with the promise of tending for Maggie well before they both reach old age. Zwick could have told an interesting story about a pharmaceutical rep, with access to all the people with the power to cure diseases, struggling to help his girlfriend cure her Parkinson's. Instead Love and Other Drugs skirts it in the laziest way possible, settling on a montage of Jamie forcing Maggie into a series of doctor's offices and putting the two at rival conferences-- his for drug reps, hers for Parkinson's patients seeking natural remedies-- where neither really learns anything from the other. All of this leads to a climax that's stunningly conventional, abandoning all of the interesting conflict and moral dilemmas of the drug rep world in favor of a clinch lifted directly from dozens of more generic rom-coms with far less potential.
Hathaway and Gyllenhaal have a natural and sexy spark, and their scenes together are where the movie comes closest to its goal of being a romantic comedy for grown-ups. The vast supporting cast, including Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, Hank Azaria and especially Josh Gad as Jamie's loutish younger brother, largely fit into the uglier half of the movie, which goes for easy laughs and constantly seems afraid of the deeper, more meaningful truths brought up in the central relationship between Maggie and Jamie. Zwick, whose feature films have leaned toward bombastic historical epics like The Last Samurai and Glory, also cut his teeth on television with thirtysomething and My So-Called Life, shows that better balanced heavy drama and broad comedy over the long arc of a season. Love and Other Drugs is a welcome attempt at getting back to that kind of contemporary, frank storytelling, but its good intentions and substantial smarts make it all the more disappointing to see it miss the mark in the end.