Script Snap: Film and Other Drugs

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 again, destined to fall hard and find his heart in the next 100 minutes. We meet his goofy protégé (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 telling, here, there’s a hesitance to get that serious, a desire to be liked by the popular crowd too much that results in  a willingness to conceal tattoos and piercings or, for that matter, any distinguishing features. The problem begins with casting Hathaway, who resonates class president, not outlier.

Early-onset Parkinson’s feels like a replacement disease (decreed by studio “Suits” who are, invariably, responsible for acontextual plot points), 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 to incite the perfect storm: mass disgust and topicality, to punch the ticket to nominations.

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 capable of passing as  high society at the polo field and the opera.  The surrounding glamour stretches credibility to breaking (absent any reference to her trust fund origins): apparent in everything from Anne’s gorgeously cluttered, artfully distressed, super-sized boho-style 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 has one brief sequence in the film where her symptoms advance to debilitating, which impels her to break up with Jake rather than be a burden, after which, her symptoms conveniently go into remission, leaving her unburdensome (if stylishly disarrayed) 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 fail to sync 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 can be 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.


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