After far too many inferior romantic comedies it’s exhilarating to encounter a bittersweet, romantic drama like Love and Other Drugs. With a fresh, provocative backdrop and an intriguingly vulnerable heroine, this is a sexy, adult piece of entertainment. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway sink their teeth into a pair of meaty, satisfying roles that stretch their abilities.
The film is built on an unusual foundation: Jamie Reidy’s autobiographical book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, which apparently paints a vivid picture of the high-stakes world of pharmaceutical sales. Longtime filmmaking colleagues Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, who tapped into the American zeitgeist years ago on—
—TV’s thirtysomething, developed a screenplay, in collaboration with Charles Randolph, that utilizes some of the specifics in Reidy’s memoir about the high-stakes world of pharmaceutical sales in the 1990s and fleshes it out with original characters, in particular a woman who’s on the receiving end of those drugs.
The movie works because both leading characters are interesting and contradictory: he’s a superficial guy who’s always had a way with women but hasn’t ever taken a relationship seriously. She’s a woman who enjoys sex but keeps men at arm’s length because she wants to protect herself from being hurt.
This film could have gone in any number of directions, from reality-inspired farce to teary soap opera, but director and co-writer Zwick keeps dodging its many pitfalls, following a through-line that allows the film to be both funny and serious, as the occasion demands. The actors walk that same tightrope with grace and charisma. They also up the ante for mainstream movies by treating sex (and nudity) with refreshing, grown-up candor. The movie further benefits from a strong supporting cast including such welcome and reliable performers as Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Judy Greer, and in just one scene, George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh.
I’m sure that some cynics will deride the film for its “Hollywood ending,” but that’s what qualifies this as a romantic movie, as opposed to a gritty slice of life. Surely there is room for both.