Under the Influence

A potent mix of Love and Other Drugs

As its title states, love is just one of many brain-altering ingredients present in director Edward Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs. The film is set in the world of pharmaceutical sales in the mid-’90s, so besides a little pot and plenty of beer, we’re also among Prozac, Zoloft and the debut of Viagra.

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) has never cared about much, so nothing much has ever really been expected of him. The only things he could honestly admit to being good at are getting laid and selling stereos. He’s one of those conscience-free charmers, loudly ambling through a happy, if empty, life. Jamie ambitiously pursues sex and money, not in some quest for power or personal justification, but simply because nothing else interests him.

So his new job as a Pfizer sales rep, which uses both his seduction skills and lack of moral stamina, fits him perfectly. And as for the task of selling the company’s newest product, Viagra, this life-sized Ken doll was practically born for it.

Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) is an artist, or at least she used to be, before her early onset Parkinson’s took away the ability to steadily hold a paintbrush. She projects the image of an unshakable woman, as she sardonically laughs off the cruelty of her disease and what she sees as the inevitability of suffering alone. But that’s mostly an act, and underneath it she’s as fragile as anyone. Maggie is not as complex or fully realized a character for Hathaway as Kym from 2008’s Rachel Getting Married, but her performance is certainly of the same caliber.

At first, Jamie and Maggie simply try to relieve their respective feelings of emptiness through incessant sex, but Jamie soon discovers affection for her beyond the bedroom. And Maggie, although she violently fights against it, falls for him as well.

This is a love story that skillfully obscures the fact that it’s a tragedy, which results in a striking, melancholic trace left in our minds. Our lovers are happy when the film ends, but the future looms over them darkly. Maggie’s disease will undoubtedly worsen, and we can presume her fits of rage will increase as well. Jamie, although he’s found a bit of humanity in himself through Maggie, hasn’t really learned a thing. He’s sort of like a younger, not-yet-bitter Ryan Bingham (from last year’s Up in the Air).

This is also a perfect example of how much a movie can depend on the presence of an actor, or in this case, actors. Whenever the pace lulls, the tone too abruptly changes, or things tip too far into sappiness, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway always seem able to salvage the scene.

After all, at heart this is still a romantic comedy. Not much is remarkable on its own, but when communicated through these two actors, it becomes insightful and poignant. Love and Other Drugs is a surprisingly effective movie, and it’s almost entirely fueled by Gyllenhaal’s charm and Hathaway’s smile.

Grade: B-

posted at 06:42 pm
on Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

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