Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox, R)

Tasteful nudity becomes a symbol for the growing emotional depth of the couple.

Last night I sat thinking about Love and Other Drugs long after the movie ended. Driving home from the theater I commented upon how anticlimactic the ending felt. Without giving away the end of the movie, I will say this fit the movie perfectly.
The film deals with a couple, Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Maggie (Anne Hathaway), whose relationship is complicated by twin diseases. Maggie, a free spirit who sees no need to bother with any process when it comes to matters of the heart or sex, has early onset Parkinson’s disease stage I. Jamie is a self-described heartless bastard who, after giving up study to be a doctor, is lucky enough to have entered into the pharmaceutical sales trade at the moment Viagra is coming on the market (the film is set in 1998). They meet, no strings attached; physical sparks fly, and the obvious complications of the heart ensue.
“Obvious” describes a fair amount of this movie. It contains the usual hurdles and stock characters that are par for the course in Hollywood. Jamie’s family appears to be refugees from a Wes Anderson film, with George Segal and Jill Clayburgh (in her final film role) as the starchy parents and Josh Gad as Jamie’s overweight, socially inept and very rich brother. Jamie, who has never had any trouble bedding women throughout his life, finds his true calling in selling “Vitamin V” until he meets Maggie under not-quite-ethical conditions.
Much has been made (by both the press and the publicists) of the copious amounts of nudity in this film. While bountiful, it is certainly not gratuitous. The director, Ed Zwick (Blood Diamonds, About Last Night…), has done a good job of not allowing the skin to become the subject of the film. It does become a symbol for the growing emotional depth of the couple. At first we see Maggie flash her breast nonchalantly, but as the relationship progresses, we see more tasteful skin, with both Hathaway and Gyllenhaal shot in museum-quality light. Some scenes are shot with a camcorder, allowing extended moments of black and white. The nudity accentuates and furthers the story. It is too bad that much of the media attention for this film centers on the nakedness of its stars. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, who previously shared the screen in Brokeback Mountain, have obvious chemistry.
Love and Other Drugs is part history of how Viagra came on the market and created a pharmaceutical superstar (the movie is based on Jamie Reidy’s nonfiction book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman), a bit about the ethics of that industry, and a tale of commitment and love. It is this third element that stuck with me long after images of the stars’ nudity faded. Maggie’s illness is one that is long-term and devastating; Parkinson’s slowly takes away the body’s ability to control its functions. In one telling scene, the husband of a Parkinson’s sufferer tells Jamie to run and get out of the relationship. The weight of caring with someone with this disease, he says, is not something that anyone would choose.
This is what gives the movie its artistic heart and links it with challenges many of us face. We are treated to scenes of two young and vibrant lovers, both charming and attractive. Yet there is this very obvious ghost in the room of a future Maggie who will become that person that she fears the most. Add to this the fact that Jamie works for an industry that sees far too much profit in selling erection-inducing pills as opposed to actual cures and you have the depth that saves this movie from being ordinary.
True, Love and Other Drugs is your typical Hollywood love story with complications and resolutions, but probing questions about love, commitment and passion based on the heart rather than pharma saves it from the typical. | Jim Dunn
About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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