In “Love and Other Drugs,” director Edward Zwick (best known in recent years for action-packed flicks like “Defiance” and “Blood Diamond”) crafts a touching, if not somewhat predictable, love story set against a backdrop of ‘90s consumer culture and prescription drug craze. But despite its best intentions and commendable performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the film ultimately bites off more than it can chew, failing to live up to its potential and leaving the audience unsatisfied.
The year is 1996 when we first meet 20-something Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal) – that good-looking, smooth-talking guy whom everyone loves to hate. As he works the sales floor in an electronics shop, it immediately becomes clear that he knows at least as much about reading customers as he does about the products he’s peddling to them. Retail is Randall’s domain, but in a classic pride-comes-before-the-fall situation, he loses his job when he’s caught having sex with a co-worker in the stockroom after scoring some big sales. And so we have Randall’s unfortunate Achilles’ heel: his cockiness.
A tense dinner at the Randall home reveals Jamie to be the family screw-up. With two highly educated and esteemed parents, a doctor for an older sister and a software engineer-turned-millionaire younger brother, it is no wonder Jamie feels inadequate and equates success with wealth. Enter Pfizer: the world’s largest research-based pharmaceutical company, which pays its representatives handsomely to place their products in doctors’ offices across the nation.
After putting on a suit and fine-tuning his hustling skills, Jamie is sent off to the Ohio River Valley to promote Zoloft and Xanax. His methods and work ethic (or perhaps lack thereof) become the most pointed social criticism of the film, with Jamie lurking around hospital parking lots waiting to pounce on doctors and even sabotaging rival drug company reps. This all comes to a head when he poses as an intern, which leads to his fortuitous introduction to Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), an alluring free spirit with more issues than meet the eye. The two begin a tenuous relationship that, despite their initial intentions, turns into something more than just sex.
Gyllenhaal, typically cast as the good guy, is thoroughly convincing as the douchebag with a soft side, charming the audience as easily as he charms the pants off the women onscreen. Hathaway is equally strong, playing Maggie’s role with a wit and cynicism highly reminiscent of her Oscar-nominated turn in 2008’s “Rachel Getting Married.” More noticeable, though, is the chemistry between them; let’s just say that at many points, I thought a more suitable title would have been “Sex and Other Drugs.”
While Zwick succeeded in making a film sophisticated enough that I hesitate to peg it as a romantic comedy, its complexity is also its downfall. While the first half of the film hints at the exploration of pertinent themes like materialism, the pressure of family expectation and the social cost of big business, things somehow get lost in the middle so that by the end, few questions are answered, and the final resolution feels more like a cop-out. Someone should have prescribed some Ritalin for this movie. Perhaps then it could have cut down the rambling and driven the message home harder.