Love and Other Drugs: Film Review

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway sparkle as sex partners who resist falling in love while the movie itself takes a while to come into focus.

Edward Zwick's "Love and Other Drugs," an offbeat romantic drama set in the world of pharmaceutical sales, plays at times like a patient who has gone off his meds.

The energy is far too great -- manic even -- at the beginning but calms down for a while to focus on the highly competitive but not always ethical arena of drug sales, then gets distracted by unusually bold sex scenes for a studio picture only to wander off into the cultural phenomenon of Viagra before the movie decides it's a romance after all and so concludes in a highly conventional final embrace. The movie's got ADD like you wouldn't believe.

At its core, "Love and Other Drugs" has solid romance credentials and two very photogenic leads in the at times scarcely clothed Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. So the film should gain box-office traction when it opens Thanksgiving weekend with young adults as its primary draw.

Perhaps the problem stems from the film's development process. Writer-producer Charles Randolph pitched a project based on the nonfiction book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy about a hot-shot Pfizer salesman navigating the pharmaceutical industry of the late '90s. Eventually, Zwick and his longtime writing/producing partner Marshall Herskovitz came aboard to create an interesting case of sexual combustion between a healthy yet emotionally constricted man and a woman with medical challenges. The world of the film could just as easily have been Wall Street, a fashion magazine or life on the road firing people to evoke a few recent movies. Yet the pharmaceutical business proves too new to films for Zwick, a filmmaker who is really interested in how things tick, to resist a deep plunge into unfamiliar territory.

So the life of a drug salesman nearly swamps his love story. But it doesn't, at least not entirely.

Gyllenhaal's Jamie Randall is a born salesmen and seducer, first seen charming patrons, preferably women, at an electronics store in 1996. However, his inability to keep his pants zipped loses this job for him. Coming to his rescue is his rich geek brother, played by Josh Gad, in a role that runs throughout the movie but is never necessary other than delivering a few gross-out moments in a misguided attempt to attract male teens.

The younger brother guides him into a training program and eventually a job at Pfizer, which relocates him to an Eastern city as a drug rep working under a veteran salesman (Oliver Platt). (The movie was shot in Pittsburgh.) In his charm-and-guile siege of Dr. Knight's (Hank Azaria) medical office, Jamie encounters a patient, Maggie Murdock (Hathaway), with whom he has an emotional kinship: Both use casual sex as an escape from the utter shallowness and insincerity of their lives. It's their drug of choice.

Maggie has to take other drugs, too, as she has early-onset Parkinson's disease. The movie all but ignores this for a while, letting the two get to enjoy better and better recreational sex while refusing to acknowledge they care for one another in the slightest.

When they do fall into the most reluctant love you can imagine -- the best humor in the film comes in the couple's real fear and loathing of this fact -- then Parkinson's moves front and center as a major player in the drama. Zwick's movie never descends into a disease-of-the-week melodrama, but Jamie's search for a cure is more about his fear of the future for himself, not his lover.

So finally the film finds its story. And then things become shockingly conventional, dipping into a break-up and the heartache you've seen a million times over.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are terrific as two sarcastic, sexually hungry young people eager to hop into bed, or go up against the nearest wall for a knee-trembler. Sappy romance doesn't suit either of their characters so something goes a little limp when they acknowledge their love. Where a Viagra salesman when you need him?

The artist's loft, coffee house, restaurants, late night cafes, medical offices and a sleek suburban home to a "pajama party" where the film takes place are all eye grabbers and Steven Fierberg's cinematography does justice to these visually arresting locations. Much is going on in nearly every scene. Even a running gag about a homeless man who digs drug samples out of a dumpster where Jamie throws his rival's products is damn funny.

In the end, this is a smart movie that could have been smarter. The script feels like it was a draft or so away from total clarity and focus. But the energy of the cast and a dive into an unfamiliar world make the movie rather addictive.

Opens: Nov. 24 (20th Century Fox)
Production companies: Fox 2000 Pictures and New Regency Enterprises present a New Regency/Stuber Pictures/Bedford Falls production
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Gabriel Macht, Josh Gad, Judy Greer, George Segal, Jill Clayburgh
Director: Edward Zwick
Screenwriters: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Based on a book by: Jamie Reidy
Producers: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Scott Stuber, Pieter Jan Brugge
Executive producers: Arnon Milchan, Margaret Riley
Director of photography: Steven Fierberg
Production designer: Patti Podesta
Music: James Newton Howard
Costume designer: Deborah L. Scott
Editor: Steven Rosenblum
Rated R, 113 minutes