'Love & Other Drugs' the right Rx

Movie review


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"Love & Other Drugs" is a bit like that pill organizer your grandma keeps in her purse or on the kitchen counter.

As with that box, the movie is divided into compartments: One holds a lusty romance, tempered by the reality that a progressive disease could steal the woman's vibrancy; another is an account of a Pfizer sales rep who struggles until Viagra drops into his lap, so to speak; and the third is a comedy that milks nudity and sex for adult laughs.

Just as some drugs are more effective than others, that is also the case with the filmed-in-Pittsburgh movie labeled an "emotional comedy" by star Jake Gyllenhaal.


'Love & Other Drugs'

3 stars = Good
Ratings explained
  • Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Josh Gad.
  • Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material.

It has more heft and heart than a run-of-the-mill romcom and a leading couple in Mr. Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway who look sensational together and generate heat, passion and a sense of being connected. If appearing in "Brokeback Mountain" bonded them, it's evident here.

But the film also gives Mr. Gyllenhaal's character a buffoonish younger brother, played by 2003 Carnegie Mellon University graduate Josh Gad.

It seems difficult to believe the same DNA pool -- which counts George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh as their parents -- would have produced both men but that's a nagging distraction compared with Mr. Gad's character who invariably goes for the lewd or crude. I don't object to him but to the way he's written.

"Love & Other Drugs," a terrific title by the way, opens in 1996 when Jamie Randall (Mr. Gyllenhaal) is working in an electronics store and selling more than just boom boxes and television sets. He can charm the pants off the ladies and does, seducing the wrong woman and finding himself out of work.

That is how the one-time Chicagoan lands in pharmaceutical sales, working the "Ohio River Valley" with his boss (Oliver Platt) peddling antibiotics and antidepressants. The rookie quickly learns that it's all about wooing the gatekeepers -- the women who work at the front desks of the doctors' offices -- with food, flowers and those baby blue eyes.

It's while trying to cozy up to Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) that he meets a patient, artist Maggie Murdock (Ms. Hathaway) who has early-onset Parkinson's disease. After a medical and moral misunderstanding involving one of her naked breasts and his gaze, they eventually meet for coffee.

"What's your game?" she asks, before realizing it might be the same as hers and they head for her apartment and the first of many torrid interludes. She fears the future and he's unaccustomed to seeing beyond his carnal conquests but both start to wonder if their lusty lark can or should lead to something else.

That is the core of the movie, but it's set against the backdrop of a pharmaceutical world where competing sales reps (including one played by Gabriel Macht) battle for prescriptions, and Viagra makes Jamie one popular man. Throw in marital problems for Jamie's brother, and this is one jam-packed screenplay with tones that vary with each subplot.

It's based on the true-life "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" by Jamie Reidy but director Ed Zwick, along with co-writers Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, added the girlfriend and other flourishes, for starters.

Much has been said about the stars' nudity and moviegoers should realize this is rated R (as opposed to "Unstoppable" and "The Next Three Days," both PG-13) for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language and some drug material. This isn't peek-a-boo stuff; you will see bare skin and, as you might expect, hear jokes about that little blue pill.

Although filmed entirely in Pittsburgh, the city doesn't shine in quite the same way as in "The Next Three Days."

A stately Squirrel Hill home doubled as the Chicago residence of Jamie's parents and a slice of Downtown plays the Windy City -- although you'll spot tell-tale street and business signs. Buena Vista Coffee in the Mexican War Streets doubles as the home of Maggie's day job, while a McCandless building was transformed into doctors' offices. The unmistakable face of Bingo O'Malley as a bus passenger helps to root the story here.

As Jamie, Mr. Gyllenhaal projects unbridled confidence, comic finesse and tenderness while Ms. Hathaway -- the early subject of Oscar buzz -- gets to erupt with fury, flirt, retreat in fear and display the range of emotions that awards' voters love.

Fellow Parkinson's patients or their spouses provide humor along with some shockingly blunt advice.

With its Viagra side effects, old-fashioned roadway pursuit in the name of love and commentaries on the high cost of pharmaceuticals and doctor distractions, it packs a lot into almost two hours. Sometimes it all works and, other times, it's like swallowing a handful of drugs and suffering an unpleasant although not fatal interaction.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Her Mad About the Movies blog is at post-gazette.com/movies.


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