Notes on “Love and Other Drugs,” which may include SPOILERS, such as the fact that people with Parkinson’s disease can laugh at themselves and look great naked. Also, we’re quickly reminded that PD is only incurable, not terminal, so there’s no reason to expect this is another “Love Story” wannabe.
Every film I see lately I seem to be comparing to “The Social Network.” I don’t think it’s because that film is either the best of the year or a standard to measure against. It’s not even much more than this year’s masked entry into the music biopic genre (its rock star just happens to be a web programmer), albeit a smartly written one. But it is the central title in a chain of movies in 2010 about asshole nerds who don’t really understand women — which they feel an entitlement to, not being alpha male types — and maybe don’t even change for the better by plot’s end. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” somewhat qualifies, but I haven’t really bothered to explore how on this blog. So far I’ve only highlighted how “Megamind” has a superhero/villain version of “Mark Zuckerberg” (it’s “The Social Network” for kids).
Now I’m also seeing one of the Facebook founder’s brethren in “Love and Other Drugs.” No, it’s not Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. Nor is it Anne Hathaway’s. It’s the comic relief character played by Josh Gad. He’s sort of a cross between the Zuckerberg of “TSN” and Jonah Hill’s super-powered geek in “Megamind.” His character is a programmer, rich from a software company he started, and the actor comes across as a fill-in for a part that would have gone to Hill if a resemblance to Gyllenhaal was there (Gad and Gyllenhaal play brothers, and actually the family resemblance is already at a bare minimum). He might actually be Hill’s “Superbad” character as an adult.
The overweight slob of a character, also named Josh, has a whole arc, though he mostly exists for awkwardly humorous moments involving masturbation, accidental exhibitionism and boner pain. Josh is recently separated from his way-too-attractive wife, obviously a gold-digger, and is witnessed over and over attempting to pick up women without the suave skill his older bro, Jamie, has. Eventually he somehow (I guess it’s his admittance of wealth) gets it on with an apparent model (or porn actress) at an orgy. Through this he learns he doesn’t really want the kind of meaningless sex that he’s been jealous of Jamie for having. We’re led to believe that he can now just go back to his wife with this realization, though it’s she who kicked him out. Who knows if and why she would take him back?
Relationships Over Relevance
One of the minor complaints people have had with “The Social Network” is that it doesn’t really focus on the bigger picture of Facebook and how it’s affected the culture. Remove the specifics of Facebook and you’re left with a classic story of friendship, fame and backstabbing. Sure there’s an ironic level to it because of the industry its set in, but it’s not a movie about Facebook. Neither is “Love and Other Drugs” about the pharmaceutical industry let alone Viagra specifically. The film is based on a memoir by Jamie Reidy, a former Pfizer rep, called “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.” I haven’t read much of the book but as far as I can tell there’s not much similarity between the two versions. For one, in the book Reidy has a brother, but his name is Patrick, and I don’t think he’s a software nerd.
But the main difference is that while “Hard Sell” is like an expose of Big Pharma, “L&OD” is simply a classic love story. Well, it’s a little more progressive in that it’s initially about an attempt at an emotionless sexual relationship. A reversal on “When Harry Met Sally,” I think it’s been commonly called. None of this is in the book as far as I can tell. And if there is any real life relationship stuff, the love interest certainly doesn’t have Parkinson’s disease. The dynamic of the relationship between Gyllenhaal’s smooth rep and Hathaway’s cold yet sympathetic sick chick is sometimes quite interesting. One of the best moments is when the former is attending a Pharma convention in Chicago and she finds her way to an “Un-Convention,” which seems strictly a meeting of PD patients. The montage is enough to make you expect that the couple can not last, unless he leaves that med-exploitative industry.
Unfortunately there’s not much more to that interesting clash of perspectives. There’s also not much more to the film’s potential as an attack on Big Pharma as a whole. Or a concentration on the problems of the medical field overall — one scene in which Hank Azaria as the film’s doctor-voice has a short and swift monologue about wanting to be good is not enough; plus it’s hard to take seriously the claims of a doctor who says he entered the field to help people but has become too frustrated with the constant battles against HPOs and legal vultures. He doesn’t mention, of course, that somewhere along the line he became a lecherous old man with seemingly apathetic concern for what he’s prescribing to patients (going by the “Social Network” mode, he probably always was a lecherous geek who thought he was a better soul just because he wanted to be a GP).
“L&OD” reminds me of “The Human Stain,” partly because I believe Hathaway is the new Nicole Kidman as far as she’ll apparently get naked in anything. The adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel, which in text form is quite generally about the late ’90s, a story of a time. But the film eschews almost everything about the Clinton scandal and the introduction of Viagra in order to be an erotic movie with a little bit of the address of political correctness of the era retained. Nobody wants to see Anthony Hopkins making it with Kidman, though. They’d rather have the hot Gyllenhaal with the hot Hathaway. It’s maybe the only real connection to the book to have the protagonist be young. It also helps with box office appeal.
“The Social Network” for Old People
Love stories appeal to most demographics. So why do I consider “L&OD” primarily for old people? Aside from the fact that I felt like the youngest person in the audience (and I’m no young kid or anything), it seemed like a tale directed at the interests of elder audiences. The Viagra and general pharmaceutical stuff, obviously, but it occurred to me that the main characters’ relationship is likely pretty identifiable to nursing home affairs. That issue of commitment due to an understanding that it can not last very long. But no Hollywood movie is going to cast the roles with, say, Ernest Borgnine and Helen Mirren (though she would have looked just as great in the sex scenes). Even the old people want to watch young lovers.
So, there is the busload of old folk who stand-in as the identifiers for the senior viewers. They even function onscreen as an audience to different significant moments in the relationship. These people aren’t into superheroes or social networks (though I must note that one of my two living grandparents is on Facebook, so some are present there). They’re into love and, now thanks to Viagra, sex. And feeling young like the couple at the center of the movie. In that way Gyllenhaal’s character does still stand-in for the viewer’s desires, especially if that viewer is three times his age. He also, as we see in the opening montage (with its Spin Doctors on the soundtrack, to tell us what time it is), can be an object of desire for the elderly woman.
This guy also nearly fits the Zuckerberg mold, but he’s instead the complete opposite. He’s the stereotypical suave, handsome cool guy who gets all the girls yet also turns out to have a heart in the end. He’s the real-life equivalent of Megamind. It’s fun to think that right now the animated film is beating “L&OD” at the box office, but maybe the kids who love “Megamind” today will prefer and appreciate this film in 80 years. Talk about a movie having legs.