Directed By: Edward Zwick
Screenplay By: Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz
Based on the book by Jamie Reidy
Produced By: Pieter Jan Brugge, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph, Scott Stuber, Edward Zwick
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Review Date: November 24, 2010
It’s not enough that Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a spoiled, rich kid, who wasted a fortune on starting up in medical school just so he could drop out and show his dad he’s his own man. It’s not enough that he takes a bit too well to selling pharmaceuticals to doctors, trying to convince them to recommend pills to their patients so he can make a cool six-figure salary in an entry-level position. It’s not even enough that he uses people to get whatever it is he wants (sex, money, a way in to a situation where he can get sex or money).
No, Jamie apparently is not enough of a jerk for screenwriters Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick (who also directs), and Marshall Herskovitz (working from a nonfiction account of the industry by Jamie Reidy) who decide to keep piling on the self-indulgent drive he considers ambition, the calculated smile he thinks of as charm, and the need to make other people do as he thinks necessary he calls selfishness. It all comes to a head in one brief scene, one moment, one line of dialogue in which no matter what he does for the rest of the movie won’t matter, because he is despicable asshole.
Let me set the scene: Jamie has been dating Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), who has early-onset Parkinson’s disease. She’s having a rough time at the moment, when Jamie arrives at her apartment (where he’s been happy to make his home since his younger brother Josh (Josh Gad, as a painfully forced, embarrassing bit of comic relief), a lucky millionaire, started crashing at his place) after doing his job for a day. She’s trying to pour herself a drink. Her hands tremble. She cannot pick up the bottle of vodka by hand and must press her wrists against it to get any kind of leverage to lift. Finally, after much effort, she pours the drink, picks it up in the same way she grabbed the bottle, and takes a drink.
“Thanks, I didn’t want one,” Jamie says in a sarcastic drone he classifies as humor, and in that instant, Jamie is irredeemable. The rest has been sunshine and playtime until that line, after watching this woman he insists he loves and has changed his life for the better struggle in such a routine task as pouring a drink to take the edge off of the pain of knowing that to do such an everyday thing is going to be an extreme strain, he — very seriously — passive-aggressively tells her to pour him one, too. The ice, glass, and bottle are on a table ten feet away; get up and pour the damn drink yourself.
The point of this example is to illustrate that I do not in the slightest buy anything that Love & Other Drugs is selling. On one hand is the day-to-day life of a pharmaceutical salesman, who wines and dines doctors, nurses, and receptionists just to get his company’s samples placed in the office. Jamie sells an antidepressant, which at the time of the movie (1996, set there arbitrarily except for the first appearance of a little, blue pill, which becomes the topic of jokes (a string of puns for its effects and a scene in which Jamie accidentally takes one) that stopped being funny at the time the movie is set), hasn’t been reported to cause an increase in suicide in teenagers. It’s been proven, Jamie argues with his sales coach (whom he later sleeps with), just not reported.
Jamie doesn’t care about the potentially dangerous side effects. He doesn’t question the ethical quandary that the nature of his job poses. He, like the company for which he works, is out to make a buck by any means necessary, and after all, the homeless guy who makes a habit out of taking the competitor’s pills out of the garbage after Jamie sabotages a top doctor prospect’s cabinet has a job interview the last time we see him. This actually happens in the movie; I could not make it up if I wanted to.
Zwick and company don’t care about the moral and ethical problems presented by Jamie’s career, either, meaning we’re left with the sale — how Jamie works, what he gets out of it, and all the little perks that come along with it. One of them, it turns out, is Maggie, a coffee shop waitress and artist who somehow pays for her extensive list of medications in cash.
She doesn’t want a relationship, but Jamie does until he doesn’t, which is when she does. Their obnoxious, cloying back-and-forth is the bulk of Love & Other Drugs. We don’t care much about Maggie, who starts a fiery sex kitten and turns into a wilting flower on cue (the music turns to a gospel singer accompanied by a piano, and Hathaway’s wardrobe turns to baggy, wool sweaters, as though she’s melting away), and I don’t think we need to go into any more detail about Jamie.
Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.