I think we have reached a point in filmmaking that comparing a film to a book or bringing up the fact that a film is based on a book is a moot point. Most films are based on another medium. This is not to diminish them in any significant way, but to state that’s how it has always been and there are no signs of slowing down.
I bring this up because Love & Other Drugs is based on a book titled Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy. Based on the product description, via Amazon, the book is an expose on the pharmaceutical industry, like how Catch Me If You Can was an expose on the life of a con man. Nowhere in the description does it mention Reidy’s relationship with a young woman with early onset Parkinson’s. I haven’t read the book but it seems to be a completely different story, focusing more on the pharmaceutical business and less on relationships. Love & Other Drugs is a film focused more on relationships and less on the pharmaceutical industry. And it is probably for the best this way.
When the film opens, 1996 is going strong, the economy is booming (god, how I miss it), and Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is wheeling and dealing at an electronics store. He is that guy flirting with anyone who walks by, selling grandmothers and teenage girls just the same. When a couple guys come up to buy a TV, his pitch involves â€œYou guys smoke weed, right?â€
When he ends up fired for sleeping with his boss’ girlfriend, he joins the up and coming world of pharmaceutical sales at Pfizer. After a brief training period where he sleeps with his instructor, he gets sent on the road to shadow Bruce (Oliver Platt). While shadowing and trying unsuccessfully to peddle Pfizer’s drugs to doctors, namely Doctor Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), he meets a young woman with early onset Parkinson’s named Maggie (Anne Hathaway). She is the wild, independent one who speaks her mind, but also carries around a wad of cash to get the prescriptions she needs. (And she does need, she is no junkie)
Theirs is the rather normal invasion and repulsion relationship early on until they start having casual sex, which works best for both because Jamie is shallow and Maggie needs to push people away before they leave her. What grows out of this is a genuine relationship, where the two realize they need and want each other.
When Jamie meets Maggie is when the film stops following the basic premise of the book. Eventually he lands the golden goose for Pfizer, Viagra. He’s moving more little blue pills than anyone expected, cashing fat paychecks (I hate him already). With all the success comes the inevitable crash of his personal life.
It is hard to empathize with some of the people in this film, but that has more to do with the carefree, money rolling in lifestyle they lead which comes in direct contrast to the economic struggle this country has faced for a number of years. What does work in the film is the interaction between Maggie and Jamie. They work together. Their relationship feels organic and real. There is plenty of hanging out naked at the other’s apartment, just enjoying life. Too many films shy away from characters with healthy sexual appetites.
The film works because both Gylenhaal and Hathaway have committed completely to their roles. Along with some good comedic work by Jamie’s brother, Josh (Josh Gad) and the always entertaining Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria, the film rounds out nicely. I would like to read the book to get more of the pharmaceutical side of the story, but as far as the relationship side, it works. Could be a hard sell to couples looking for something to do over the Thanksgiving weekend but I imagine it will be easier than selling Faster to the couples crowd.
Love & Other Drugs opens wide today.