Sunday, December 12, 2010

Edward Zwick's LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS (or rom-com-satire-drama all mixed-up)

Love and Other Drugs feels like a Producer-tampered movie, or maybe just a screenwriter-tampered script. I have to wonder what Edward Zwick, the director, who hasn't made a movie in this romantic comedy-drama realm in quite some time (look at his credits, it's been, oddly enough, since the 1990's as he's been making international or big-themed epic/action movies for a while), knew what he was really doing with this material, specifically the book by Jamie Reiddy (very likely the influence on Jamie, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal in the film). It tells its tale with a modicum of professionalism always, but its head is scattered about with what it really wants to do.

It's two movies, no, maybe even three, or two and a half may be a nice round number. First, there's the pharmaceutical-insider movie, done with a tinge of satire (if not entirely the same level of energetic and fierce wit) as Thank You For Smoking, which peers into a practice that is not altogether pleasant but is fun to watch in a way, which is the pharmaceutical rep game. Reps, who go to doctors to hock the latest in drugs to sell to their patients, is much like a seminar for any other salesman thing, or better yet for an army. As Jamie gets into this game, he already has sales experience from selling junk TV's to people (this is circa 1996, by the way, just in case the soundtrack blasting Spin Doctors didn't let you know). So it's some fairly easy ground to cover. And over time he gets successful, and chummy with people, and may go on to the next big thing in Chicago.

Next, there's the romantic comedy, where a guy meets a girl by a rather embarrassing meet-cute (Jamie, a, must note this, consummate and practically professional one-nigher ladies man, poses as an intern and gets to see Anne Hathaway's breasts - not the first nor the most pleasant time), and he pursues her even after she says no way. Finally she gives in under the proviso that it'll be just sex. Yey, fine by Jamie, and the two go at it like jack-rabbits (Zwick, to his credit, does not shy away, and neither by proxy do his actors, from showing skin and, more importantly, being open and vulnerable sexually on screen in a mainstream studio release). Along the way Jamie gets advice, begrudgingly, from his rich- but-loser younger brother (Josh Gad), and there's some funny business with a videotape that Jamie and Maggie shoot of their sexcapades that his brother actually does watch at one point(?!)

Hellooo Anne Hathaway Nurse!
And then, finally, there's the romantic drama tinged with an illness ala Love Story. I mention Love Story only in some part; to the filmmakers credit they do have a real, debilitating disease, Parkinson's, as what ails Maggie and causes Jamie to reevaluate everything that's come before. The only problem is that Parkinson's, for someone who is 26 years old (the character's age at least as mentioned) is extremely rare (Michael J. Fox, for example, didn't even get it quite that early), and it kind of becomes a big calling-card for the movie's drama when it seems like such a convenient disease for her to have. This shouldn't be to note that the movie doesn't treat the disease seriously. It does, almost to a fault; there's a wonderfully touching scene where Maggie by near accident goes to a Parkinson's help-meeting and real patients are used in the scene. It makes it all the more painful when, ultimately, it's really just a plot point.

That would be confusing enough, and yet, also to Zwick's credit as a filmmaker, he does make this part of the movie of a relationship drama work the best. Surely the two actors, who previously had (ironic) chemistry for Brokeback Mountain, are very well suited for one another dramatically and are excellent together when such dramatic or small- range scenes come up (one I really loved, which comes as close to merging comedy and drama together) is when Jamie, a future Viagra rep, can't get 'it' up and realizes and says that he loves Maggie and the two sit it out and talk, that everything just clicks, for a few minutes. There are some powerful scenes and moments between two characters, and it can be a rare thing to have equal chemistry, talent, and some good meaty-relationship dialog altogether.

An in-joke on one of the producers (?)  "More comedy!  No, more drama!  No, more sex!  Yeah, all that!  Go do it, NOW!
...And then it goes back to the romantic comedy, and humor involving (you guessed it) a Viagra joke that gets stretched out (no pun intended) for about ten-fifteen minutes. Another big problem is Josh Gad. Is this guy funny, or do people think he's funny? It's partly that the character just sucks, no other way to phrase it- like a loser Judd Apatow would have written out or marginalized or tried to make funnier with someone like Jonah Hill- and that Gad is so unwelcome with the rest of the material. All of these other actors- the two leads, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt- are on such another level than Gad, and it's painful to watch. Adding to this is the pharmaceutical-rep satire, which gets dwindled down as Jamie changes (maybe the right decision plot-wise but less interesting character-wise), and tries to become serious in little spurts but goes nowhere with it.

Three separate movies can be made out of his material, and there's a descending order that could be made (and I think you get the idea by now) of what is most entertaining, cathartic, successful, and pleasing in storytelling and structure. Oh the stars do try, bless em, but they've got only so much room to go in the space of Zwick's messed-up script. It also has a very end that is so unnecessary, but by this point it's already made its warbled little head and laid in it. There's a lot of brave bits in here, and a lot of stuff that feels forced in, as if the demographics were given more precedence over coherence and tact and reason. What else is there to say? Um... did I mention the actors are naked for many minutes of the movie?

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