The romantic comedy is an incredibly popular genre. That’s something that always seems a little odd to me as 99 percent of romantic comedies follow the exact same formula. Heading into one of these films, rather than just knowing what is going to happen, all too often you can guess at much of the dialogue. It therefore takes just a little bit more from a film in the genre to make it something truly special, something you’re going to want to sit down and watch more than once (or perhaps even just the once). The Jake Gyllenhaal-Anne Hathaway romantic comedy, Love & Other Drugs, is just such an endeavor.
Set in 1996 and directed by Edward Zwick (working again here with his long time partner Marshall Herskovitz), the films finds Gyllenhaal playing Jamie Randall, a truly smart man who has bumbled along in life, never reaching his full potential except when it comes to seducing women (where he truly excels). When Jamie’s brother, Josh (Josh Gad), convinces Jamie to become a drug rep for Pfizer, having nothing better to do, Jamie dives right in. It is in Jamie’s trying to pitch drugs to a doctor, Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), that he meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) and soon finds himself falling head over heels for her.
Of course, this being a romantic comedy, there must be stumbling blocks which the couple has to overcome in order for them to finally get together and for everyone to wind up happy. Love & Other Drugs certainly provides the necessary blocks. Rather than the main issue being Jamie’s history as a womanizer (an easy target which many a film would have opted for), Jamie’s main problem is a desire to not have to stay selling drugs in the Ohio River Valley, which is not where he grew up, nor a big market. The bigger issue overall, however, lies with Maggie who has Parkinson’s Disease. This has left Maggie world-weary, depressed, and with a desire to not get too involved with anyone or anything.
Okay, so even if the womanizing stumbling block isn’t the main problem, the script really doesn’t stray too far to find issues for the couple. No, you’re not going to find anything new and/or different related to the film’s story. Instead, what makes the movie work are the performances by Gyllenhaal, Hathaway, and the supporting cast which, besides Azaria and Gad also includes Oliver Platt, Gabriel Macht, George Segal, and Judy Greer.
Whatever you may have thought of the recent Oscar telecast, Hathaway gave it her all, and that same enthusiasm can be found here with her portrayal of Maggie. Oh, Maggie isn’t always jubilant and over enthusiastic, but whether she’s having a good moment or a bad one; whether her character is struggling with her illness, love, or anything else, Hathaway delivers. She joked during the Oscars about how there was a time when if an actress got naked for a role she was rewarded with a nomination – something Hathaway didn’t get here despite repeatedly exposing herself in the film. Whether or not there is truth to Hathaway’s joke, her performance in the film, not her nudity, certainly ought to have given the nomination committee pause.
For his part, Gyllenhaal too is incredibly charismatic and likable. It almost seems impossible to contemplate how he could have such trouble initially as a drug rep. Things turn around for Jamie in the film when Pfizer releases Viagra – there certainly is no shortage of jokes about the drug and its effects in the movie – but the issues he has making headway with sales prior to that do seem improbable.
That is where the main complaint can be lodged against the film. We are told that the best drug rep in the area is Trey Hannigan (Macht), a man who comes off as hugely unlikable every time he appears on screen. We are also told that the movie takes place in 1996, but there are moments in the film–whether they be with the technology displayed or people’s actions and attitudes–where it feels as though the script (by Charles Randolph, Zwick, and Herskovitz) doesn’t quite pay enough attention to those details. Instead, it seems much more concerned with sexual jokes and nudity. In short, those who examine the plot too closely will certainly find themselves disappointed.
Love & Other Drugs is a romantic comedy, and like most romantic comedies, as the plot is obvious, it lives and dies based upon the performances of the actors involved. In order for the film to wrap up as it does there are a number of dropped plots, skirted issues, and bits of collected amnesia amongst the characters. One can’t help but think that there are solutions to this that either wound up on the cutting room floor or were simply never filmed at all. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway make it work though and make Love & Other Drugs a truly enjoyable romantic comedy.
The Blu-ray release features a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack which won’t blow you away, but which certainly is more than adequate. The surrounds do help situate the viewer within the world shown on screen, and really comes through with the music. This is a romantic comedy, not an action blockbuster, and the dialogue is crisp and clean and won’t leave you with any complaints. With a mostly muted color palette, the visuals still provide a great level of detail even in shadows. This is a film which focuses heavily on its two main characters and their bodies, and the high definition transfer really picks up on all the small details on their faces.
The bonus features included with the film are all relatively standard. There is a digital copy available as well as deleted scenes; short pieces on Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s work and characters; and a pretty standard discussion of the making of the film. The most interesting of the featurettes is on James Reidy, a pharmaceutical rep who wrote the memoir the script is based on. All of the extras, however, still have a very pre-packaged, overly produced feel to them.
Love & Other Drugs in no way reinvents the romantic comedy genre and one would be hard-pressed to suggest it is the best work of anyone involved. However, it is certainly an enjoyable diversion and an example of a very good entry into the genre.