‘Love & Other Drugs’ overdoses on rom-com tropes

Posted by · 11:14 am · October 26th, 2010

I went into last night’s screening of Edward Zwick’s “Love & Other Drugs” wanting to love it.  I really did.  There was an opportunity here to delicately balance comedy and drama, tell the story of a man’s journey to maturity against the backdrop of a very serious socio-political issue — the pharmaceutical industry — and tie together themes of responsibility and compassion.  At the risk of being reductive, it could have been this  year’s “Up in the Air.”

Unfortunately, the film just never finds that balance.  There are too many ingredients in the soup, many of them tasty.  But they clash in the mixture.  Take Josh Gad’s portly, foul-mouthed brother to Jake Gyllenhaal’s suave corporate pill pusher.  I laughed at this guy a lot, but it never felt organic to the film.  It was arbitrary comic relief lacking any real commentary on the narrative.

Meanwhile, Anne Hathaway — a talented actress who will no doubt win an Oscar one day — does well by the material but she’s asked to play a one-trick, woe is me character who never finds a genuine end to her arc.  And that could have been intriguingly the point, but it feels more like a concept stretched thin rather than one filled in with nuance.

Jake Gyllenhaal offers potentially the film’s best performance, but it is owed so much to charisma rather than what’s on the page.  And again, there was an opportunity here to expand thematically rather than run through the usual high-gloss romantic comedy motions.  There was a gold mine of potential in a doctor character, played by Hank Azaria, but it is squandered.  Even the one scene that promises to break into this intriguing and important territory is cut short and sacrificed for a pointless ménage à trois beck and call gag.

Okay, it’s not entirely fair to say the film goes through the motions.  I appreciated how intimate Zwick got with the love making in this film.  It’s authentic, and in a range of emotional dispositions, no less.  But it also started to feel like a way to manifest some kind of connection that really wasn’t taking hold otherwise.  Hathaway eschewing the typical movie orgasm in favor of a believable human moment doesn’t fully work if the foundation isn’t in place.

Then there are the musical cues, which are probably outnumbered only by “Morning Glory” this year.  Zwick seems unwilling to just let the imagery tell the story.  He has to hit things square, drive home the point.  If only he’d just allow himself to be a bit more suggestive, I think his eye for a good story would yield an exceptional piece of cinema.

“Love & Other Drugs” is set to open AFI Fest on November 4.  It hits theaters nationwide on November 24.

[Photo: 20th Century Fox]

→ 28 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

28 responses so far

  • 1 10-26-2010 at 11:28 am

    Joey said...

    I really want to likes this…

  • 2 10-26-2010 at 11:43 am

    JJ1 said...

    I’m sorry to hear about the film’s inconsistencies. I’ll go in with some trepidation now. Thanks for the info, Kris.

    That said, speaking of Oscar chances … any chance for Hathaway (despite your lukewarm reception to her), any it gets decent reviews, any chance for love outside of her, and any chance for a nice box office?

  • 3 10-26-2010 at 11:54 am

    kevin said...

    I think the film will probably receive mix reviews because playlist and hollywood reporter gave it good reviews:




  • 4 10-26-2010 at 12:05 pm

    Mark Johnson said...

    So do you feel Hathaway has little to no chance at a nomination for this film?

  • 5 10-26-2010 at 12:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Personally, I don’t see anything outside of Globes potential for this.

  • 6 10-26-2010 at 12:48 pm

    Ibad said...

    I can agree that it was a bit straightforward, and that it won’t get anything beyond Globes attention, but I think I still liked it more than you did. Some of those musical cues did make me roll my eyes, as did some of the more typical romcom aspects to it (not to mention that awful character in the brother), but overall it actually had the opposite affect on me. I was kind of EXPECTING all those things going into it, but I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy it all that much overall. I think even though it feels like familiar like most romantic comedies these days, there was still something that seemed fresh about it, to me. I disagree that Hathaway played a one-trick pony, because I think that’s what the performance could have easily turned into but she made Maggie a much more authentic and human character. I was really struck by the fact that she had all the awards tricks with the disease and the consequential sad moments that come with it, but her strongest moments were when she was actually happy and overcome with love. But yes, Gyllenhaal was probably better considering his immense charisma and surprisingly adept slapstick abilities.
    I think it’s wise for them to market this film more for audiences to make a buck then trying to make it seem like a serious awards contender, because it is probably a bit lightweight for that kind of thing, but overall I’d say it’s probably the best date movie I’ve seen in years.

  • 7 10-26-2010 at 12:55 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Yep, Kris had pretty much the same reaction as I did to this film. Not only are the song cues annoying but this was another case of score misuse that Guy wrote about just a while ago.

    That final scene between them outside the bus, the sappy music and the close ups. Edward has to spoon feed us everything!

    Also that party scene with Jake, his brother and Hank was completely useless.

  • 8 10-26-2010 at 12:56 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Oh yeah and the scene where Jake comes home and catches his brother doing what he is doing. I mean come on, that is a scene that belongs in an American Pie film, not this one.

  • 9 10-26-2010 at 12:57 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    So, the obvious question to me (having not seen Love & Other Drugs yet) is: what did Up in the Air do that this film doesn’t? I mean, they both seem nearly identical and have the same potential pitfalls (shoving its Serious Issue aside in favor of a breezy story, cliched characters, etc.), so how did Reitman succeed and Zwick fail?

  • 10 10-26-2010 at 1:06 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    She makes her authentic, ibad, but she’s still hampered by a script that doesn’t develop her all that much.

    Robert: Up in the Air managed to tell a profound personal story against the backdrop of a profound socio-political issue. Here, the backdrop feels incidental and the personal story feels half-baked.

    In a nutshell, Up in the Air was working from a much more refined screenplay.

  • 11 10-26-2010 at 1:09 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Variety chimes in with a very positive reaction.

  • 12 10-26-2010 at 1:25 pm

    Matthew Starr said...

    Reitman’s comedy is also dry and witty outside of the Galifianakis scene. Zwick’s comedy is slapstick, which does not really mix well with the dramatic overtones.

  • 13 10-26-2010 at 1:32 pm

    B.D.. said...

    Best Actress is just too crowded for Anne Hathaway to sneak in and the movie is too mediocre. I actually loathed Josh Gad in it.

  • 14 10-26-2010 at 2:27 pm

    Ivan said...

    The field for leading actress is really not that crowded…
    I only see true 7 contenders:
    Annette Bening & Julianne Moore/The Kids Are All Right
    Jennifer Lawrence/Winter´s Bone
    Nicole Kidman/Rabbit Hole
    Natalie Portman/Black Swan

    Lesley Manville/Another Year?? ( I got the feeling they will put her in supporting)
    Diane Lane/Secretariat

    GG Comedy or Musical Acting Predictions:
    Stephen Dorff/Somewhere
    Michael Douglas/Solitary Man
    Robert Duvall/Get Low
    Paul Giamatti/Barney´s Version
    Jake Gyllenhaal/Love & Other Drugs

    Annette Bening/The Kids Are All Right
    Anne Hathaway/Love & Other Drugs
    Sally Hawkins/Made in Dagenham
    Julianne Moore/The Kids Are All Right
    Emma Stone/Easy A

  • 15 10-26-2010 at 2:43 pm

    (The Real)Dan said...

    I’m glad it’s not like UP IN THE AIR. I didn’t like that movie and didn’t think the screenplay was very good. Of course, this movie could be worse than UITA, which would be bad………

  • 16 10-26-2010 at 2:53 pm

    Missy said...

    Glad I’m not the only one who didn’t like this film. Where do I start? Oh let’s talk about the scene at the ‘meeting’ in which Jake’s character meets a man and has one of the most eye-rolling heavy-handed exchanges ever put in a film. I can’t. That scene annoyed me to no end.

    The music in the last scene is gag worthy, it sounded quite frankly like something they took from the catholic church up the street, I almost started to pray because I thought that is what the music cue was instructing me to do.

    Hathaway is fine, nothing spectacular, her character is unlikeable though. I don’t quite understand what Gyllenhaal’s character sees in her that is appealing. There is not an ounce of nuance or complexity in Anne’s performance. It’s all so very conventional. They get together, she wants it to remain a fling, they break up cause she’s sick, they get back together with Jesus’s theme song blaring in the background, and no I didn’t really give anything away there.

    Also, Up In the Air is far far superior to this run-of-the mill film. People focus so much on the fact that they are naked, and yes they have chemistry, but I can honestly say I didn’t care at all for either of their characters (though Jake’s does come off better than Anne’s except for the stupid party scene that served no purpose).

    Also Jake’s character’s decision at the end was and such an easy and predictable way to go and annoying since they spend most of the movie wit him working towards one goal only to completely go in a different direction in the end.

    Here’s the bottom line:
    Jerry Maguire – A Lot Better Than This
    Up In the Air – Loads Better Than This

  • 17 10-26-2010 at 2:53 pm

    Michael said...

    I initially felt like this was going to turn out to be a more generic run of the mill romantic dramedy after the first trailer came out, but I had hoped that the talent involved would steer it in another direction. Guess my first inclination was right. Might just wait for a netflix to see this one.

  • 18 10-26-2010 at 3:02 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Maybe B.D is talking about the Hathaway’s chances at the Oscars… I don’t see her also getting in as of now…

    Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
    Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
    Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham)
    Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
    Diane Lane (Secretariat)

    But I think, Hathaway’s chances may depend on the film’s box-office success and critical acclaim… She’ll have a chance…

  • 19 10-26-2010 at 3:14 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    I have to say, I’m not that surprised the film isn’t that good. I’ve never liked Ed Zwick and even the one or two films he’s done that I found somewhat enjoyable, I always felt that if someone else had made the film it would have been better.

  • 20 10-26-2010 at 3:26 pm

    JFK said...

    Yeah, no surprises here for me–gleaned most of this from the trailer.

  • 21 10-26-2010 at 5:55 pm

    Angie said...

    Kris, I’m very impressed with how fair and balanced (hate to sound like Fox News here) your review of this film is. I have been confused by some of the positive reviews (i.e. Wells, who had an orgasm over the movie) and some negative ones from people I know whose opinions I trust and value. You really articulate well why this film doesn’t work. So why do yout think Wells and his ilk are orgasming over this movie? Is it because of the chemistry of the two leads and Hathaway’s nudity (I keep hearing nonstop about it)? Also, I’ve noticed this film isn’t generating as much favorable reaction among younger viewers (if I count my friends who’ve seen the film at screenings) as opposed to older viewers. Interesting…

  • 22 10-26-2010 at 6:31 pm

    A said...

    Sad to hear this, for some reason, I’m really rooting for this movie. I’m still excited to see it!

  • 23 10-26-2010 at 6:38 pm

    Angie said...

    Omigod. I just read Todd McCarthy’s review of the film on Indiewire. NOT GOOD.

  • 24 10-26-2010 at 7:24 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I think the reason I’m disappointed in it’s apparently inconsistent narrative/tone is because I tend to enjoy Zwick films, I usually love Gyllenhaal, & I always love Hathaway.

    Reallllly hoping I like it. But Kris has made me err on the side of caution. Great review.

  • 25 10-26-2010 at 8:06 pm

    Suzanne said...

    I’m totally with you. I saw the film a month ago and have been waiting on the press to see the film so that all the Oscar hype could go away (I hoped).

    Why? Because, like you, I found it to be a huge letdown. I wanted so badly to like it.

    When the Wells review came out last week, I worried that this was going to be a movie that I hated and everyone else loved. So, thanks for commiserating. What a disappointment!

  • 26 10-26-2010 at 8:44 pm

    James said...

    Still excited to see this, but I’m not surprised by the criticisms. I won’t go in expecting much. I did get the feeling this could be all over the place.

  • 27 10-26-2010 at 9:15 pm

    qwiggles said...

    I hear Guy hated it.
    Or you know, WOULD.

  • 28 10-27-2010 at 10:01 am

    Mia said...

    Variety gave it a good review too.