Thanksgiving… 'tis the season to go to the movies if one is not a football fan, so Mom and I went off to see a late afternoon matinee of "Love & Other Drugs." She emerged puzzled by the plot… which is normal for her these days, but evidently not such an odd reaction to this film. I was not puzzled by the plot, but a little puzzled by the film. It was unclear whether this was intended to be a satire about the lives of pharmaceutical salesmen, or a serious drama about how a non-serious guy's life is changed by falling… really hard… for a woman with a serious degenerative disease. But in the end I thought it was a pretty decent film, by comparison to a lot of the dreck flooding the theaters these days.
The film is based on a non-fiction book written by a pharmaceutical salesman, so it is at least rooted in fact. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the smart but footloose son of an eminent Chicago physician who should have gone to medical school but seeks to rebel against Dad, so he begins the film as a hot-shot retail electronics salesman who sees his job mainly as the way to have sex with as many pretty women as possible. He gets himself fired and is at loose ends when his nerdy kid brother, who just made his fortune with the IPO for his internet start-up, advises that he become a pharmaceutical salesman, which kid brother (played hilariously by Josh Gad) informs him is the only sales job he knows where you can make more than $100,000 a year. The story is set in the mid-1990s – does that figure make sense?
Anyway, the film settles into what seems like a comic view of the training and early misadventures of a big pharma company - in this case, Pfizer – salesman, trying to convince doctors (under the prodding of his supervisor, played by Oliver Platt) into using Pfizer's product, Zoloft, instead of Prozac. While he's putting the hard sell on a doctor played by Hank Azaria, he meets one of his patients, played by Anne Hathaway, and the film takes a sudden turn from jokiness into romantic pursuit. In turns out that Anne's character can be had in the sack but — she insists — not in the heart, and eventually Jake learns why: she has stage 1 Parkinson's and doesn't want a long-term relationship with anybody.
Hathaway's character is quirky and unpredictable, but ultimately, it seems, is intended to be very altruistic. She knows her condition will degenerate, she knows that any man who would enter into that scenario will either desert her or have his life ruined by the challenge of a spouse with this condition, so she keeps pushing Jake away, even as she falls more deeply in love with him — and he, contrary to all past behavior, is smitten. They finally work it out in the last act and…. well, happily ever after? At least in the short term.
Ah, and Jake finally triumphs as a salesman when Pfizer releases Viagra, which practically sells itself and lets him outgun the competition by being the most in-demand "samples" man in his territory. This provides the opportunity for some cheap viagra jokes, including one involving a very embarrassed Jake…
Anyway, I'm a big Jake Gyllenhaal fan and so this film works for me because he is positively over-the-top charming in it – and the sex scenes let us see that Jake is in spectacular shape physically. Anne Hathaway is also sparkling in this role, although the quirkiness of the script makes it harder to like her until you finally come to understand the character later in the game. The supporting roles are all well done, but in two completely different styles. Platt and Gad are playing for comedy, Azaria is playing for seriousness….
I went online after seeing the film, looking for reviews, and the critics seem to be all over the place. I can say this for the film: maybe it doesn't all hang together, but while it was running I found myself involved, occasionally put off or frustrated, sometimes very amused, and ultimately moved at the end – although I'm an easy tearjerker target for a film that ends warmly romantic. I wouldn't say it's the greatest thing out there right now, but as I said at the beginning, it is better than most of the dreck. Sitting through the previews before the film, I wondered why most of these films were made and wouldn't think of seeing them. That's not the case with this one, and on balance I'm glad I went.