Wednesday, December 01, 2010

He Said/She Said: Love and Other Drugs

My rule of thumb for romantic comedies goes like this: I have to want the central couple to be together. Even if the film surrounding them misses the mark, even if I hate everyone else in the movie, it will get a pass if I like the two leads.

Unfortunately, Love and Other Drugs just gave that rule of thumb a hangnail.

Anne Hathaway is one of my favorite actresses. I like Jake Gyllenhaal too. I wanted their characters to end up together. They needed each other. They deserve each other. Both of them are major, albeit sympathetic neurotics. But the movie they're stuck is an even bigger mess than both of them put together.

My colleague Hannah Poturalski was similarly confused and writes: 

I was so hyped up to see Love and Other Drugs, but left the theater confused on whether or not I liked it — I loved the actors and the pharmaceutical side of it but the love side of it felt really forced at moments and the character flaws were old and tired.

Jamie (Gyllenhaal) is a slick pharmaceutical rep who has a way with ladies, with the emphasis being on ladies, plural. He's a smooth talker but goes through women like a Playmate-a-Day calender. He's a commitment-phobe who can't latch on to anyone - until he meets That Girl. 

That Girl is Maggie (Hathaway), who, like Jamie prefers no-strings-attached relationships, but her reason for shying off long-term love is a bit more dire: Maggie, not yet 30, is suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's Disease (a fact the film's advertising carefully hides).

Much has been made of the sex scenes in this film, but they're not so much intense or explicit as they are plentiful. Put delciately, our lovers romp around quite a lot. But then, so does the movie - in a destructive way. 

The film's co-writer and director  is Edward Zwick, a talented but frustrating filmmaker. At times he can make something as great as Glory. At other times he makes insufferable pap like Legends of the Fall Asleep.  The major stumbling block of this film is a failure of tone.

In one scene it tries to be a ribald romance, like Zwick's About Last Night ... Then, in the same scene it morphs into a Disease-of-the-Week movie. Then it turns into a will-they-or-won't-they love story, a la When Harry Met Sally ... Then it's a big-city comedy with over-intellectual banter that only Woody Allen can pull off because it doesn't exist in any place resembling real life. To quote Woody's Bullets Over Broadway, "You don't write like people talk."

It's a frustrating film because I wanted to like it. The cast on the whole is strong, and Hathaway turns in her second-best performance after her Oscar-nominated turn in Rachel Getting Married. Hannah, however, found her character tough to take: 

Maggie freaks out and becomes, to me, an unlikeable character. I can understand why she feels the way she does — she’s afraid Jamie will begin to resent her as her illness becomes more aggressive. But her character was just too dramatic for me. She seemed to contradict herself a lot ...

At times I admired Love and Other Drugs' zeal in tackling so many different issues, but  like many of Zwick's films, it falls short because it tries too hard. 

Hannah ultimately seemed to like it a bit more than I did, wrapping up her review this way: 

Director, producer and co-writer Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond) overall did a great job. The film, for me, has a similar feeling to that of Valentine’s DayHe’s Just Not That Into You, and the upcoming No Strings Attached (can’t wait!) because of the high-caliber actors and hype.

I can't give Zwick that much credit. At times I admired hia zeal in tackling so many different issues, but  like many of Zwick's films, this one falls short because it tries too hard. Love and Other Drugs talks a lot about viagra, but what this film really needs is Valium

Read Hannah's full take.


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