Movie Review: Love and Other Drugs- Edward Zwick’s Departure from Action to Romantic Comedy Proves to be Enjoyable Though a Tad Formulaic

It just seems quite out of place for director Edward Zwick to be at the helm of a Hollywood produced romantic comedy entitled Love and Other Drugs. The director of action extravaganzas such as Glory, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond seems as though he’s the equivalent pick for a romantic comedy as Marc Forrester was a good pick for the last James Bond film (note the sarcasm). However, Ed Zwick’s talents for involving subtle drama and developing character throughout his other films provides a drastically missing element to the romantic comedies of late by giving his character’s some depth, understanding, and the most important of all a character arc. Too many romance films have involved self-interested protagonists who only begin to accept the other person they love of their flaws instead of realizing that there is something drastically wrong with how they carry themselves. Fortunately the two protagonists in Love and Other Drugs find that their inhibitions to fully accepting a genuine relationship are within themselves and their perceptions need to change. It’s a film full of love, character, and some hearty feel good moments that is undeniably enjoyable despite its inevitably predictable conclusion. But some stories are still enjoyable to experience even if the ending is all too familiar.

Love and Other Drugs is a film in a familiar time known as 1996 where the boom of the economy that continued from the 80s saw a boom in prescription drugs and the salesman who would be essential in promoting their company’s inventions. Jamie Randall is introduced to the audience as the charismatic salesman, a product of his time where touching the customer wouldn’t end in a lawsuit. Jake Gyllenhaal is convincing in his performance of a man who is sexually gifted but has extreme ego problems linked to the genius business success of his younger brother and the expectations of his father. He falls into the business of selling prescription drugs for the demonized company of Pfizer where his partner Bruce (Oliver Platt) teaches him the ropes and tries to utilize Jamie’s expertise as a ladies man. Things get more complicated when Jamie meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) who is a young woman who has the first stage of Parkinson’s but is extremely vibrant, alive, and equally strong in her personality towards Jamie. What begins to grow as a relationship between the resistant couple stems from sex, equal understanding, and fear. Maggie Doesn’t want to saddle Jamie with her sickly problems while Jamie battles with the fact that someone genuinely cares for him. Together they help each other’s problems whether it’s Jamie’s insecurity or Maggie’s dependency issues. What results is an all too familiar final romantic encounter but is satisfying to experience due to both character’s drastic transformation that is essential to sympathizing or relating to the on screen character’s scenarios.

An essential piece to a romantic comedy puzzle is bringing in competent actors to charm and invite the audience into their self-involved relationship where our cares and sympathies will be ignited rather than rescind away from the on screen egoism. This was so magnificently done in (500) Days of Summer that it will be difficult for other modern romantic comedies to reach the standard. Luckily both Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are better than your average set of actors and bring some depth to their characters on the screen. Hathaway is particularly charming in her role as she explores the pain of being sick and the rivaling sassy personality that exists as a defense in her every day life. Gyllenhaal’s performance is also well done though subtler than Hathaway’s more dramatic moments where his character’s change comes in waves and quite unexpected to himself. The film tries to show the struggle of how putting someone else before your own interests is quite essential to any relationship, especially one involving a sick partner. While the film could be considered manipulative, which it is on many accounts including its unfounded and lacking evidence jabs at health care and prescription drugs, it is clear that the film is attempting to relate how difficult it is to fully put oneself in a relationship when the other knows they won’t be able to take care of themselves in the near future. It is an emotional tool that works well mostly because of the acting and not necessarily because of the lacking technical aspects of the film.

While the technical aspects of the film aren’t entirely up to director Edward Zwick’s standards, a fact that is clear in a ridiculous and extremely corny celebration between Gyllenhaal and Platt, there is a good sense of timing for the comedic and dramatic elements that allow the film to flow well. The camera simply captures the action at hand as any normal comedy would be done, which is a disappointing aspect of Zwick helming the project since he isn’t your average dramatic comedy director. There is a nicely done single shot montage at the end of the film that shows Zwick’s talents for foresight, but it simply isn’t enough to bring the film out of a filming mediocrity that hints at Zwick’s interest in the project for solely it’s simplicity. There’s nothing wrong with being simple in delivery as long as all the appropriate pieces for the drama and character’s stories are all in place. Luckily Love and Other Drugs is a bit refreshing in comparison to its drastically mediocre competition this year in the same category such as When in Rome or Leap Year. However, as refreshing as it is it’s still trapped in a genre that isn’t as expressive or as intriguing as it was in yester years with examples as Billy Wilder’s The Apartment or even the more slapstick examples in Preston Sturges’ career such as The Lady Eve.

Edward Zwick has made a career at making epic action period pieces either with the Civil War era Glory, the World War II resistance film Defiance, and even the war in Japan against the Samurai in The Last Samurai. No one would ever expect him to direct a simplistic romantic comedy that is also a slight unproven criticism of prescription drugs. Luckily the social commentary is on the lighter side of the script and it focuses on the relationship between two struggling flawed personalities who learn to accept their flaws and change for the better. Good performances along with good comedic timing make Love and Other Drugs an enjoyable film to experience though there is that anchor weighing the film down from breaking completely away from formula. But even some familiar stories are fun to look in on especially when the relationship at the center of the film provides for some intriguing thoughts as to how one can truly be selfless when they are taking care of a sick individual.

Grade: B-

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