“Love and Other Drugs” possesses an erratic poignancy. At the story arc, Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) confesses to ailing Maggie (Anne Hathaway) that he can’t live without her. Tearful Maggie says, “I need you more It’s not fair.” Anne Hathaway is electrifying. Her performance is award worthy. She and Gyllenhaal have a galvanizing chemistry that anchors the narrative incongruities. Director Edward Zwick’s “Love and Other Drugs” has unexpected gravitas. The screenplay by Zwick, Charles Randolph, and Marshall Herkovitz, based on the book by Jamie Reidy has a romantic comedy facade. After all, on the surface “Love” is about Viagra salesman Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal). But Maggie (Hathaway), the 26 year-old Bohemian artist, he falls in love with has Stage 1 Parkinson’s disease. Rather than enrolling us in the conversation—life isn’t fair, the innate power of “Love and Other Drugs” lies in the possibility of unconditional love. Reclaiming one’s humanity and greatness aligns with what we risk giving up.
Set in 1997, Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) is the bright, but ADD riddled son of Dr. James Randall (classically bland George Segal) and his wife (the late Jill Clayburgh in a brief but strong role). His loutish younger brother Josh (lovable loser Josh Gad) is a millionaire from a dot com IPO. Jamie is smart enough to be a doctor, but has neither the desire nor discipline for it. Besides he is a hot guy, who can sleep with any woman he desires. Leveraging his strengths he becomes a pharmaceuticals rep, working for Pfizer. He and his mentor Bruce (funny Oliver Platt) court many doctors to prescribe Pfizer products. One of them is slick and surprisingly genuine Dr. Stan Knight (solid Hank Azaria). One of his patients is Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), who has Stage 1 Parkinson’s. Maggie smacks Jamie in the head after he poses as Stan’s physician colleague and spies Maggie’s beautiful breasts. The cosmos aligns: this is the superfluous souls match. Jamie is the charming master player. Maggie’s sexual appetite is a self preservation reflex that keeps her isolated and immune to love.
There is a lot of gratuitous sex in “Love and Other Drugs”. This can be a good thing. Anne Hathaway has spectacular breasts, and is naked a lot. Jake Gyllenhaal is shredded, often guarding his loins with a pillow. Fortunately, these are not the most captivating attributes of their performance. What is stunning about Hathaway is her resilient spirit and visceral vulnerability. Her Audrey Hepburn eyes convey both joy and agonizing sorrow. In an amazing scene Maggie drinks dulling the pain of her tremor ridden body; she scares off Jamie saying that he “ pity f***ed the sick girl”. She then weeps to her very soul. When Maggie speaks to the video camera after making love, and confesses her love, her smile lights up the room. Gyllenhaal tempers his charm, and never trespasses into self absorbed. He brilliantly embodies a man resisting becoming a true hero—one who believes and sees the best in everyone. He displays a quiet power as he listens to the husband of a woman, now in the deteriorated stages of Parkinson’s.
The writing at times is all over the place with glaring omissions. Maggie is an artist, who has a studio in a spacious flat in the city. How does she afford that? She doesn’t have showings. This is more puzzling given part of the storyline is that she does not have medical insurance. There are at least 2 too many Viagra jokes. Although amusing, the slumber party pharmaceutical orgy is a calculated punch line. Zwick and “Love and Other Drugs” is at its best in its most dire and humane. Maggie never wanted to hear “I love you.” When she surrenders to this, she embraces her own mortality and forsakes all self. Jake must reconcile tremendous sacrifice, and the cost of not being with Maggie. Life is all about the journey, and Hathaway and Gyllenhaal as Maggie and Jamie do so with courage and compassion. In the end it’s about love, and “Love and Other Drugs” gets it right.