Friday, December 10, 2010

Love & Other Drugs (2010)

The modern romantic comedy is in a state of disrepair. Generally, it starts with a cliched story (working, impossibly-beautiful single woman meets guy of her dreams, whom she hates. Hijinks ensue!), then throws together two people who have a name brand with the rom-com set (Katherine Heigl/Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds/Patrick Dempsey) and viola: instant mediocrity. What separates the classic romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s, the ones with Katherine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, isn't that the stories were better or even that the acting is better (though Heigl is no Hepburn). The difference is chemistry: the pairings that are celebrated from the past had incredible chemistry so that you could believe that these two people would be together. Nowadays, its just a studio throwing two big names together for sex appeal, occasionally lucking into something that works but usually not.
Love & Other Drugs manages to follow the romantic comedy blueprint, but make it so refreshing that it avoids falling into the fate to mediocrity. And the main thing that saves this film is exuberant, sexy chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays a Pfizer sales rep in the mid-1990s who lands a deal selling a new drug called Viagra, and Anne Hathaway, the Parkinson's-afflicted woman he falls for. In fact, I would go so far to say that they have turned the movie into one of my personal favorites this year.
That is no easy feat, either, considering the foundations. Director/co-writer Edward Zwick has proven himself to be competent at what he does, but his films tend to gravitate toward whatever cause he's supporting at the moment and grandstand to the point of being preachy. Look no further than Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, and Glory for evidence of this (side note: my girlfriend can do a pretty spot-on impression of Denzel Washington's Tripp in Glory. Its pretty awesome.). Here, it seems he has the pharmeceutical industry on his mind, but he doesn't necessarily preach. Yes, there's a scene about a conference of follow Parkinson's patients across the street from a major pharmaceutical conference that Maggie and Jamie respectively go to that gets a little preachy, but for the most part the dialogue stays faithful to the characters, and Jamie never becomes an activist for health-care reform (this was during the Clintoncare years, or at least the aftermath of them).
And the performances are magnificent. Gyllenhaal oozes sexy charisma; he's an impossibly charming womanizer who's flashy, toothy grin is so warm and wide its hard to believe he could be anything BUT a salesman. But behind his piercing blue eyes is a truly damaged individual who Gyllenhaal doesn't sell short; its a brilliant performance that's been undervalued by many. And Anne Hathaway shines as the equally damaged Maggie Murdock, who's approach to dealing with her disease is to shut out everyone and march onward to her inevitable fate. Hathaway plays broken well (see her bravado performance in Rachel Getting Married), and she easily delivers one of the year's best performances. Just watch the scene in which she finally breaks for evidence of this. In great supporting roles, Oliver Platt is memorable as Jamie's mentor, and Hank Azaria does well as a womanizing doctor who becomes close to Jamie.
There are some things that don't work, though. Certain conflicts seem to come from nowhere, without any real development that could have made them more rewarding. And Josh Gad's role as Jamie's brother who lives with him is more or less an unnecessary Jonah Hill-esque character that only detracts from the film. It seems to be a ploy to draw in the Apatow crowd, though this film didn't need that.
Love & Other Drugs is perhaps one of the best romantic comedies of the last 10 years. I highly recommend this film to everyone.
PS By the way, there's lots of nude Jake and Anne. If that's all you need.

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