Just saw Love and Other Drugs. It’s a not terrible film, and kind of enjoyable, as much of it focuses on really attractive stars in their physical and professional prime engaging in hot, uncommitted sex. It’s a cross between 91/2 weeks or Last Tango for emotionally challenged Gen Z-ers, and a new millennium take on sad sack, old-hat downers like Love Story. Anne Hathaway pretty much seals her position as heir to Julia Roberts.
Love and struggles with the Hollywood mania of wanting to be all things to all people, with the result feeling like an arty outcast who sacrifices his soul to be popular. At its heart – and I’m betting in the original script – beats a dark and serious small-budget indie film, aspiring to Rail at Fate, Champion the Little Guy, and Take On the American Healthcare System; laudable intentions that are hopelessly subverted by its leading actors’ off-the-charts attractiveness.
The opening montage, set against a relentlessly upbeat pop score, regales us with Jake’s prowess in sales and with women, an amusing and entirely predictable set up for his imminent downfall. A poppy beat replaces the drole voiceover narrative of last year’s Up in The Air, but it’s the Unavailable Man all over; he, destined to fall hard and find his heart in the next 100 minutes. We meet his goofy protege (in this case, the Younger Brother); we meet the Object of his Affection, his mirror image. Sparks fly.
Up in the Air managed to address downsizing with a deft balance between humor and pathos; its visual world was consistently upper-management and mid-studio budget; it knew it was the smart aleck and didn’t need to prove itself. But Love and jumps from indie-scale to studio-sized conventions like a Bipolar going on and off meds; and where bipolar would explain Anne’s nymphomania in a true indie film, here we’re not allowed to get that serious – we want the popular crowd to like us too much, so we’re going to hide our tattoos and piercings. Part of the problem is casting Anne in the first place; she resonates class president, not outlier.
Early-onset Parkinson’s feels like a replacement disease, decreed by Studio Suits who make these interventions, for something more dicey, like AIDS, or more disconcerting, like epilepsy, or overused, like blindness. Though omitted from the marketing campaign, the film is loaded with diatribes against corrupt drug manufacturers, the practice of bribing doctors, payola schemes, junkets and kickbacks. It’s more than required to make the point, even (or especially) in the year of the health care bill; a suit’s idea of how to replicate the impact of Up In the Air‘s cost containment specialists, incite the perfect storm of mass disgust and topicality, to punch the ticket to nominations. Subtlety not welcome.
Though the Awards will probably nominate her, Anne is about as believable as your ordinary working person/renegade-healthcare-activist-suffering-a-progressive-disease-for-which-there-is-no-cure as Julia Roberts was as a naive prostitute plying her trade in the penthouse of the Beverly Wilshire and passing in society at the polo field and the SF opera. The glam factor is even more overwhelming, in everything from Anne’s gorgeously cluttered, artfully distressed, super-sized transplanted Parisian loft, to the lingering closeups of her face, with her plush lips, wide set eyes and her luminously pale, but in no way sickly, skin.
With Anne, we’re committed to meaningless sex with multiple partners as her declaration to not go quietly into that goodnight. Anne is plucky, courageous, and eventually allowed to freak-out, but rather sweetly, as a big Acting Moment. She only has one brief sequence in the film where her symptoms become debilitating, which impels her to break up with Jake rather than be a burden, and then go into remission, so she can be perfectly healthy (if less stylishly attired) when Jake persuades her to reconsider. You can feel the steady push to the Big Payoff Line, Jake’s Jerry McGuire moment, when he says: “Everyone needs help.” To his credit, and the reason the film isn’t really terrible, you believe him.
Everyone works really hard to fit the reshaped pieces that fall out when an arty puzzle is reconfigured as a mainstream product. Special props go to Anne Hathaway, just because her body is lovely, and to the director, who indulges in almost-fully-naked, quasi-promiscuous sex until the film nearly attains a French ease with it (nearly; as Americans, only violence is served up with no self-consciousness or apology). Final props to Jake for baring nearly as much skin and cute booty as Anne and to the Suits and the MPAA for the stab at gender equality.