TERRY GROSS, host:
In the new romantic drama "Love and Other Drugs," directed by Ed Zwick, Jake Gyllenhaal is a salesman for a drug company who meets Anne Hathaway, a young woman with early-onset Parkinson's disease. The film is based on the memoir "Hard Sell" by Jamie Reidy, a former pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer and Eli Lilly.
Film critic David Edelstein has a review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: "Love and Other Drugs" is brash and manic and sexy, then grim and weepy and self-consciously inspirational. It's madly uneven. But it's also one of the few romantic movies in the last few years with strong and insightful satirical undertones.
It's set in 1996, which wasn't the dawn of our psychopharmacological era, but it was certainly the morning. And big pharma sales dude Jamie Randall, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is an early riser. He's a supple, smooth-faced, blue-eyed cutie whom women fall for even when they know that his ingenuousness is an act. It's more winning than other men's genuine ingenuousness.
Under the tutelage of a company mentor, played by Oliver Platt, Jamie gets more and more accomplished at sweet-talking physicians and receptionists. His goal is to get doctors to prescribe his antidepressant, Zoloft, instead of his even slicker competitor's, Prozac.
Even set in the past, the first half of "Love and Other Drugs" is a state-of-the-art zeitgeist sex comedy. And it's even more of a kick when Jamie's company comes out with the Holy Grail: Viagra. Suddenly, he doesn't have to labor to get physicians' attention. He's the most popular guy in town.
Not that Jamie needs the drug. He has sex all the time, and no particular hankering for a relationship. But one woman brings him up short: an artist named Maggie Murdock, played by Anne Hathaway. They meet cute, or cute-slash-icky: He pays a doctor, played by Hank Azaria, to let him pretend to be an intern to observe how physicians operate. And Maggie is a patient with early-onset Parkinson's disease. She's furious when she discovers what Jamie really does, but he bugs her until she meets him for a date.
(Soundbite of movie, "Love and Other Drugs")
Ms. ANNE HATHAWAY (Actor): (as Maggie) What's your game?
Mr. JAKE GYLLENHAAL (Actor): (as Jamie) My game?
Ms. HATHAWAY: (as Maggie) Oh, I'm sorry, right - this is the part where we talk about where we come from and what we majored in, in college.
Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (as Jamie) You have beautiful eyes.
Ms. HATHAWAY: (as Maggie) That's it? That's the best you've got?
Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (as Jamie) I'm serious. They're beautiful.
Ms. HATHAWAY: (as Maggie) Well, let's go.
Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (as Jamie) Excuse me?
Ms. HATHAWAY: (as Maggie) Well, you want to close, right? You want to get laid?
Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (as Jamie) Now?
Ms. HATHAWAY: (as Maggie) Mmm. Mmm. Oh, right, right, right. I'm supposed to act like I don't know if it's right. So then you tell me that there is no right or wrong; it's just the moment. And then I tell you that I can't - while actually signaling to you that I can, which you don't need because you're not really listening, because this isn't about connection for you. This isn't even about sex for you. This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you. And that's fine with me, see, because all I want is the exact, same thing.
(Soundbite of crashing)
EDELSTEIN: Those last noises were the pair in her apartment, frantically removing clothes. And there's no getting around it: Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are beautiful specimens. Once or twice, they're buck-naked, which is the film's come-on. They're even on the cover of Entertainment Weekly without their shirts.
Director Edward Zwick made his name with the TV series "Thirtysomething" and then moved on to Oscar-bait war movies. With "Love and Other Drugs," he has rediscovered his inner Jason Reitman. Like Reitman's charismatically irresponsible protagonists in "Thank You For Not Smoking" and "Up in the Air," Zwick's Jamie must develop a social conscience, and learn to love.
The film's tone turns darker, as you know it will. It doesn't take much to see that Maggie is so tart and commitment-averse because she has a degenerative disease. And Jamie, though he desperately tries to help her, is powerless. He watches Maggie shepherd elderly men and women in a bus back and forth from Canada, where they can fill their prescriptions at a fraction of the prices set in the U.S. And he realizes that as a drug rep, he's a cog in a machine he can't fully trust.
I think the movie would have been more on point if Maggie were depressed instead of afflicted with Parkinson's. With a more defined illness, the movie is on the soapy side. The surprise goes out of it - and the air, too. Hathaway is impressive in the first half, hard in a way that subtly signals her vulnerability. But in the second half, Zwick should have dialed her down.
In the end, half the audience will be drying their eyes, and the other half rolling them. I was mostly in the latter camp, yet I like the movie's scope. It should also be said that romantic-comic weepers are drugs, too. And for all the mood swings this one induces, I feel reasonably confident prescribing it.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
You can download podcasts of our show on our website, freshair.npr.org.
I'm Terry Gross.
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