Likely the first Hollywood romance to feature a convention montage of real-life Parkinson’s disease patients and a farcical ER visit for relief of a painful erection, Love & Other Drugs is an unwieldy mélange of genres and agendas, alternately gutsy and lamentable. It begins promisingly enough as Jake Gyllenhaal’s womanizing college dropout Jamie, grinning with boyish heat, takes a job as a drug rep with Pfizer circa 1997, wearing down doctors’ female office staffers with bouquets and bedroom eyes so he can leave his Zoloft samples in place of his competitor’s dumpster-bound Prozac, at least until his rival antidepressant-pusher (Gabriel Macht) derails Jamie’s chicanery with a punch to the gut. The film’s willingness to tar Big Pharma’s multibillion-dollar med mills by name is a bold gesture; scenes of a Pfizer employee trainer smugly endorsing the promotion of off-label treatment, and a physician lambasting drug merchants for mucking up the human immune system with the heavy marketing of nonessential pills, suggest the makings of a full-blooded lampoon of the American prescription circus. By the time Pfizer introduces Viagra, horndog Jamie smirks at his mentor (the inevitable Oliver Platt), “Who could sell a dick drug better than me?”
Enter Anne Hathaway’s Maggie, who meets Jamie in cute-hostile fashion while one of his white-coated marks (Hank Azaria) is treating her early-onset Parkinson’s. Just as up for an escapist screw as the salesman is, she cuts short their first date for head-banging sex on the floor of her apartment, soon followed by sessions in an alley and the local coffeehouse’s bathroom. Following the first act’s feint at satire (apparently the thrust of the source memoir, Jamie Reidy’s Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman), this sex-comedy segment impresses for how often the two hot stars are naked and how loudly their orgasms are acted, but not for how their NSA hookups serve as the filmmakers’ diagnosis of the couple’s Deep Emptiness. When she warns her fuckbuddy not to let any “latent humanity” draw him into loving her, director/co-writer Edward Zwick makes Hathaway pay for the feminine lasciviousness of her teasing, forthright seduction. She and Gyllenhaal even bring easy charm to their repartee after an impotence episode, but he also suffers at the writers’ hands when Jamie suffers a panic attack before he can utter “I love you.” This syrupy ambivalence is reminiscent of Zwick and collaborator Marshall Herskovitz’s worst instincts on their old TV series thirtysomething, as is the gabby self-awareness of all the major characters, even Azaria’s testosterone-dosing doc (“I saw this as a higher calling…”). Of more recent vintage is Josh Gad as Jamie’s maritally imperiled software-kingpin brother, a refugee from Planet Apatow who contributes slob cred and masturbation riffs.
With worsening PD symptoms waiting in the wings for Maggie, the movie haphazardly enters a third phase as medical melodrama, with Jamie, now committed to her, crisscrossing the country in search of new therapies via his professional connections. (Yet again, the man is a white knight with a backstory, while she’s a cipher aside from her healthy sex drive and medical affliction. Why Maggie pays for her scrips with a wad of cash, or her only occupation seems to be busing Midwestern seniors to Canada for cheaper drugs, is largely left to our speculation.) After she pushes him away for “pity-fuck(ing) a sick girl,” Love & Other Drugs counterintuitively dives back into gross-out yuks, with a pajama-party threesome resulting in the aforementioned slapstick priapism, and Gad’s ample ass-straddling of an inexplicably willing maiden, before the leads come to a final reckoning that’s never in much doubt. Almost as amazing as this mash-up’s reckless tonal shifts and conflicting goals is that Hathaway’s tear-streaked performance in its final heart-to-heart dialogue almost overcomes her co-star’s I-never-cared-‘til-now boilerplate speech. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s erotic, playful energy could’ve carried a film, if only Zwick had known which one he was trying to make.