Love & Other Drugs Movie Review: Viagra Nation

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While Hollywood has at times in the past turned a critical eye on its cultural competitor, television, with Love & Other Drugs that spotlight shifts to a different sort of prevailing escapist entity today – prescription drugs. In other words, pill popping as an alternative even pricier mood enhancer than movies, but unreeling more privately and without the need of a popcorn chaser, inside the recipient’s head.

A subdued satirical romance that is less about pill power than the medical powers of persuasion, Love & Other Drugs alternates stimulant and sedative narrative properties, while taking benign sidebar potshots at the survival-for-sale callous commercialized health industry. Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond, Glory), the film is based on the Jamie Reidy’s bestseller expose Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Though the scope of this cinematic reconfiguration moves way beyond the blue aphrodisiac boom on the heels of the dot com bust back in the 1990s, to mull from the sidelines the dubious one-drug-fits-all notion of a chemical quick fix for emotional turmoil.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Jamie in Love & Other Drugs, an underachiever bottom feeder salesman with commitment issues who has disappointed his doctor dad. When Jamie signs on as a high pressure Zoloft sales rep with Pfizer, where his primary duty is to stalk and con skeptical physicians to switch from the Prozac peddling competition, he has a chance encounter with office patient, Maggie (Anne Hathaway). She’s a cynical, wise-cracking fellow sex addict who is also dealing with incurable early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

And as Maggie pulls off the awkward feat of keeping Jamie at emotional arm’s length to avoid his pity while exchanging bodily fluids with him on a regular basis, her confused lover gets hooked on romance for the first time in his life, we’re told, because no woman has ever rejected him like that before. And while Jamie is poised to rise through the ranks of the medical industry with the sales spree popularity of Viagra, a glum Maggie feeds her pricey chronic ailment by organizing charter bus pilgrimages for the elderly and infirm, across the Canadian border where drugs are affordable.

The provocative pair of starring lovebirds, previously in dress rehearsal for complicated doomed romance in Brokeback Mountain, conjures plenty of emotionally tinged erotic chemistry out of a less than convincing script. Because the audience is never presented with a convincing enough reason for Jamie’s extreme psychological transformation, or compelling evidence as to why these two similarly intimacy-allergic individuals into steamy stranger sex would surmount their thorny issues, and fall in love with each other as opposed to anyone else around them.

And despite a combo cocktail of sweetness, passion and Parkinson’s heartbreak in their sexually needy relationship luring viewers in, the concurrent, pressing darker theme surrounding the side effects of this out of control medical treatment business, just seems to get an unentitled pass. And how richer a movie this might have been, had their conflict encompassed as well, the unspoken clash of her economic struggle for life-sustaining medication, with his ethically questionable promotion and profiting from that enterprise.

20th Century Fox

Rated R

3 stars

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.