tue 20/02/2024

Love & Other Drugs | reviews, news & interviews

Love & Other Drugs

Love & Other Drugs

Is it a weepie? Is it a comedy? No, it's a movie without a heart

Love and stuff: Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal

It’s difficult to know how to categorise Love & Other Drugs; is it a rom-com, a biopic, a melodrama, a satire or a hard-hitting attack on the influence that mega pharmaceutical companies have on America’s healthcare system? The film’s makers, meanwhile, tell us in their press notes that it’s an “emotional comedy”. Nope, me neither.

I was none the wiser after seeing the film, which premiered at New York's CMJ festival and which stars two of Hollywood’s most intelligent and pleasing-on-the-eye young actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, previously seen as a couple in Brokeback Mountain. Here they are not married, but we see the development of their relationship from breathless, torn-clothes sex to committed love, with a few obstacles in between, of course.

The main obstacle is that Hathaway’s character, Maggie Murdock, has early onset Parkinson’s and has decided not to have relationships beyond those purely for sex, and at first the charming but restless Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) appears to be a perfect match because, as his colleague puts it, he has a “swinging dick” and has never stuck at anything in his life despite his upper-class education and the opportunities it afforded him.

Jamie, a gifted salesman, starts work for Pfizer in the late 1990s and under the tutelage of Oliver Platt’s Bruce Winston, an old hand who has been schlepping round the same territory for years and who, Death of a Salesman-style, longs for the sales figures that will land him the big job in Chicago, uses any method to get doctors to prescribe his company’s drugs. But then Jamie, in reality a sensitive soul, falls in love with Maggie and, with a bitter twist, discovers that while Pfizer have developed Viagra, a drug that will give a boost to their profits seemingly in perpetuity, no medication exists to treat Parkinson’s effectively, still less cure it.

The story, based on Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by former Pfizer employee Jamie Reidy and directed by Edward Zwick (who also co-wrote the script with Marshall Herskovitz), is easy on the eye, with plenty of terrifically sexy love scenes to keep one’s interest piqued. But it’s difficult to believe Jamie and Maggie as a couple (one certainly can’t blame the chemistry between the actors, if those sex scenes are anything to go by) and there’s too much going on - including Jamie’s relationship with his overachieving medical family and his many sexual conquests before he meets Maggie - to appreciate what the film’s central theme is.

There's a further problem in the section which finds Jamie setting off on a mission across the United States to find a cure for Maggie’s condition. It feels shoehorned in and merely a chance for her to deliver a moralising but out-of-character speech about being a person, not a condition. And where the film’s real moral heart should be - the hard-sell methods that drugs companies use in pushing their products - is here represented merely as boyish japes, such as Jamie removing his competitor’s samples from a doctor’s office and replacing them with his own.

Despite some very funny scenes with Hank Azaria as an easily bought doctor and Josh Gad as Jamie’s sex-mad younger brother, Love & Other Drugs is a film that doesn’t know what it is. And ultimately, we neither know nor care.

Watch the trailer of Love & Other Drugs:

Pfizer have developed Viagra, a drug that will give a boost to their profits seemingly in perpetuity, but no medication exists to treat Parkinson’s

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters