Published On: April 12, 2013

Love and Other Drugs

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DVD Review

Romantic films that depend on a fatal illness are too obvious. The goal of these films seems to be only to make the audience cry. There have been many movies like this, such as Autumn in New York, starring Richard Gere who falls in love with the dying young Winona Ryder. Another love/dying story from 1970, the hugely popular book and movie Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal, used the gimmick of the husband not informing his wife that she is dying.

In 2010, Hollywood produced another version of the love/fatal illness genre, but this time it came up with a story from Edward Zwick (director/co-writer) that works beautifully. Instead of having the audience and/or the lovers discover midway through the movie that one of them is dying, we are aware of the tragedy from the beginning. Not only does the script eliminate the need for any secrets, but the boy (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers the truth about the girl (Anne Hathaway) the first time he sees her.

In movie language, the first time two lovers meet is known as the “meet cute”. The meet cute in Love and Other Drugs is deliciously unique. When Hathaway loses her daily medication, her emergency places her in the office of a doctor, who that day happens to be allowing Gyllenhaal, his drug company sales representative, to follow him as he talks to patients. The meet cute occurs as Gyllenhaal enjoys Miss Hathaway revealing one of her breasts to the doctor for an examination.

Jake Gyllenhaal

While Gyllenhaal is physically attracted to the sick girl, it’s not because he pities her or recognizes the seriousness of her youthful illness (Parkinson’s disease). Rather, it’s that he’s experienced in seducing women, and sees no reason for her illness to provide any resistance to his seductive charms. In fact, for at least half the movie, he finds ways to ignore her condition. (Her diagnosis is rare, as Parkinson’s is generally an old-age disease.)

Knowing she is ill with a disease that will be eventually fatal, Hathaway’s character resists Gyllenhaal. She fears his desire is fueled by pity. She also knows from the start, after their unique meet cute, that he is a “ladies man”. Hathaway wisely avoids his fluency in temptation by “turning the tables” and seducing him. She then makes it clear to him she’s not going to fall in love. Watching her change of heart is the kernel of this movie, along with Gyllenhaal’s transformation, as he realizes a long-term, monogamous relationship is more important than sexual conquests.

Besides these two superb young actors, what makes this film interesting is an excellent script that surpasses the usual “hankie fest” (films that hope audiences will cry) by adding humor as well as social commentary. The humor is supplied by Jake’s brother, (the overweight actor Josh Gad, known for his work on TV), who gets thrown out by his wife and demands his big brother Jake let him sleep on his couch, even though Josh is ridiculously wealthy.

Hank Azaria

The social commentary of the film is also unexpectedly refreshing, as it’s so rare in a romantic drama. The film spends a lot of time examining the world of medicine, in particular the business of pharmaceutical drugs, and how drug companies have greater profits than any other American industry. We observe the senior citizens Hathaway works with, who are forced to go to Canada to purchase their prescription drugs cheaper than in the US. Yet we also enjoy Gyllenhaal’s superb salesmanship skills, as he makes money selling prescription medicines. We witness the rigorous training sessions for those entering the profession, where they must memorize the advantages of the company’s medications. When he gets rich, thanks to his company’s new wonder drug viagra, Gyllenhaal never questions the value of his profession or the necessity of medicating the sick and elderly because Anne Hathaway relies on medication to control her disease. The complex ethical debate over prescription drug companies and how they earn their profits is examined intelligently.

Playing the doctor, Hank Azaria is excellent. He’s the actor responsible for the voices of several of the characters on The Simpsons, such as Homer’s bartender, Moe, and Police Chief Wiggum. The excellent cast of Love and Other Drugs is rounded out by George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jake and Josh’s parents; Judy Greer as the doctor’s secretary; and Oliver Platt as Jake’s boss at the drug company. Platt is a marvelous actor who has appeared in over 70 films and TV shows, and is known for his ability to bring light-hearted humor into any situation. He is the husband to Laura Linney in the popular TV series The Big C. Platt also appeared in The West Wing and Nip/Tuck.

Oliver Platt

Anne Hathaway won an Oscar this year for her singing role in Les Miserables, and she’s been previously nominated for an Oscar in two other films. Her acting talents are unquestionably superb even though she’s only 30 years old. What’s truly impressive about Hathaway is her willingness to take chances in roles that require great courage and versatility. In Les Miserables, Hathaway cuts off all her hair and sings a cappella. In Love and Other Drugs she performs love scenes in the nude. More than any other young actress today, she exhibits an acting range of someone twenty years older, and some critics have compared her to Meryl Streep, Hollywood’s greatest living actress.

Her co-star, Jake Gyllenhaal, is also known for his willingness to go beyond the boundaries of mere competent acting, as he exhibited in the role of a gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain, which earned him an Oscar nomination (and in which he marries a cowgirl played by Anne Hathaway).

What makes Love and Other Drugs more satisfying than the routine “tear jerker” is the outstanding acting of its two young stars, Hathaway and Gyllenhaal. Their spark carries the sad story beyond its typical limitations and provides the film’s chemistry — love and illness can become intertwined, and when they do, it has the power to change both the ill lover and the healthy one.

Anne Hathaway

Love and Other Drugs
Director: Edward Zwick
Writers: Edward Zwick, Charles Randolph, Marshall Hershkovitz. Based on the novel “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” by Jaime Reidy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Judy Greer, Josh Gad, George Segal, Jill Clayburgh
Now available for DVD rental in Curitiba.

Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba.

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