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Movie Review: 'Love and Other Drugs' saved by acting, subject matter

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“Love and Other Drugs”

Directed by: Edward Zwick
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht, Jill Clayburgh, George Segal, Judy Greer
Rated: R

The trailers and TV ads for director Edward Zwick's new film, “Love and Other Drugs” make it appear to be a nice little screwball romantic comedy, one with a great cast.

It does have a great cast and certainly starts out as a romantic comedy, but along the way it takes a turn toward the decidedly serious.

Because of the nature of this seriousness, there will be endless comparisons of “Love and Other Drugs” to Arthur Hiller's 1970 film version of Eric Segal's rather pedestrian (but hugely successful) novel “Love Story.” Hiller's film is a rare case of a movie actually being better - much better - than the book it is based upon.

In this case, director Zwick and co-writers Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz are working from a memoir, “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” by Jamie Reidy.

In the film, Jamie's last name is changed to Randall, and he's played by Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the few actors working today who is so good looking that   
he's barely eclipsed on-screen by co-star Anne Hathaway as Maggie Murdock.
The two have played a couple - not the main one -  before, in “Brokeback Mountain,” and they look comfortable together.

Jamie is a med school dropout who is a natural born salesman. What he's best at purveying is himself. And he has closed the sale with every woman he's ever desired.

Using his medical knowledge and natural charm, Jamie gets a job as a rep for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. His sales district is in Ohio, his clients are doctors and his dream is to do well enough to get promoted to the Chicago office.

It's 1996 and Pfizer's latest “big thing” is Zoloft, a drug trying to take away from Prozac's market share. Jamie uses all his charm to get the front line women at his clients' offices to give him access to their bosses. Most do. And many give him access to things much more personal. He's a born ladies' man.

One doctor actually becomes close with the kid and Jamie makes rounds with him one day, posing as an intern.

It's then he meets Maggie. He stands by when the doc does a breast examine.

Maggie discovers the fraud and assaults Jamie (in the romantic comedy sort of way) in the parking lot.

It goes without saying that while oil and water are said not to mix, the fact they can is a  staple of plot points in this type of film.

They have a strange relationship at first. Maggie just wants sex, not intimacy. Jamie has been doing that since high school so it seems OK to him.

Again, noting the formula at work here, it's no surprise that Jamie's devil may care, love 'em and leave 'em notions are eroded by his love for Maggie. It comes to our attention that he's never said, “I love you” to a person before. He said it to his cat once but not to a human being.

Their relationship takes the usual roller coaster route, but both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway keep it interesting.

There are two subplots. The first has to do with Jamie's brother Josh (Josh Gad), a pudgy nerd who made hundreds of millions of dollars selling the rights to some medical software he devised. His marriage has fallen apart and even though he has enough money to buy a mansion, he chooses to crash on Jamie's couch in his small apartment.

The other important side character is the drug Viagra. It has just been approved and Jamie knows (while he doesn't need it himself) he's the perfect rep to peddle it. And he really is.

I liked “Love and Other Drugs” mostly on the strength of the acting by Gyllenhaal and Hathaway and because of the utterly crazy impact that Viagra had on society at the time it was introduced. Gyllenhaal's Jamie is a snake oil salesman selling something that everybody already wants.

As stated, the movie starts out as light comedy but eventually turns a bit heavy.
The reason Maggie was at the doctor's office in the first place begins affecting her (and Jamie's) life more extremely.    

As usual, I'll offer a local consumer alert:
While even prudish audiences didn't seem to have a problem with Julia Roberts playing a hooker in “Pretty Woman,” some people may get uncomfortable with the fact there is a fair amount of nudity and steamy (and naked) love scenes in “Love and Other Drugs.”[[In-content Ad]]

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