Life is frustrating, exhilarating, confusing, astounding and unpredictable. So is LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, a film with high aspirations and a slightly muddled follow-through. Based on Jamie Reidy’s book “Hard Sell: The Evolution of A Viagra Saleman” and set against the world of medicine as a business, it makes a piquant juxtaposition of Viagra and true love in the persons of Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) and irresistible pharmaceuticals salesman with nothing on his mind by scoring, financially and romantically, and Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway), the irresistible artist who crosses paths with him under false pretences. His, that is. He was pretending to be an intern when Maggie removed her blouse and bra to show a doctor a suspicious mark on her breast. Its that curious blend of subterfuge and complete honesty, hers, that is the hallmark of their turbulent relationship.
Shes there for meds, a truckload of them, to treat her early-onset Parkinsons and as she ticks off the names, dosages, and uses, there is a hint of how Jamie is with more than just Maggies luscious curves and angelic face. Hes still impressed a few minutes later when, cover blown, she whaps him with her bag. For her part, shes impressed with the way he tries to ask her out, not missing a beat in his salesmanship even as she is threatening him with further bodily harm. Shes impressed with his smooth assurance, the which she deconstructs with startling clarity unfogged by anger. Jamie, being a man who has always know how to get what he wants out of people, eventually gets Maggies number via the giggly office drone in the doctors office where he met Maggie. Maggie, being a woman who cannot be hornswoggled, but can be fascinated by a hunky guy who offers no strings, meets him for coffee, further deconstructs his pitch, asks him if it usually works for him. She then takes him home for raucous sex, after which she sends him on his way with a polite handshake. Its the perfect arrangement for both of them, honest lust and no emotional entanglement.
Despite themselves, despite their better judgment, random conversations between bouts have the same brutal honesty as their raw coupling and becomes the intimacy of brutal honesty and, inevitably, one sort of intimacy leads to another, more disconcerting kind. Their booty calls, illustrated as graphically as an R rating allows, turn into something more, also illustrated as graphically as an R rating allows, which become so terrifying for Jamie, that he all but hyperventilates when he confesses his new and tender emotions to Maggie. There is a sly twist of gender roles in the mating ritual here, with Maggie pushing Jamie away emotionally, and Jamie refusing to be pushed. But its more than a gimmick, illuminating though it is when examining the follies committed in the name of pair bonding. Both have issues that are real and deep and more troubling than they want to admit to anyone, especially themselves.
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are superb. If the script wanders a bit before focusing on the love story, and it does, the leads waste no time filling the screen with vivid performances that have depth, nuance, and just the right vulnerability beneath polished, brash exteriors. Hathaway is radiant delivering withering lines with a smile that is ironic and blindingly beautiful. Gyllenhaal is imperturbable until his panic-inducing realization of true love, even when being pummeled by his arch-nemesis (Gabriel Macht), who is only slightly less upset that Jamie is dating his old girlfriend than he is about being outsold by him. If it wanders a bit too far into melodrama, and it does, its motive in making the reality of Maggies condition absolutely clear is at fault, the condition that in turn fuels the dynamics of the relationship she has with Jamie.
Peopled with supporting players such as that, all more or less going through their own struggles between hype and truth, LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS finds humor and pathos in the struggle for authenticity. Jamies doughy geek of a younger brother (Josh Gad) reeling from a marriage breaking up that not even his $35 million garnered from his software company can assuage. The internist, Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria) drowning his loss of idealism in endless partying. Jamies field supervisor (Oliver Platt) dreaming of the big-time in Chicago, and living full-time with his wife and family. There is big pharma itself, with fireworks and sales quotas and the superficial schmoozing and rote memorization of facts and figures that makes actual patient care incidental, a point brought home in a lovely bit of side business in which a homeless man benefits from Jamies habit of tossing his competitors anti-depressant samples into the trash.
A fine sense of melancholy pervades even the films lightest moments makes LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS a story that defies attempts to pigeon-hole it. This is a sophisticated, unadulterated, uncompromising consideration of adult relationships. Its flawed, to be sure, but there is enough interesting going on to make it worth a look.