Love and Other Drugs is actually based on a memoir called Hard Sell: the Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. (Hard Sell! Do you get it?! Penises.) Now, as we have all learned from writers like David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs and James Frey, people often exaggerate their actual experiences in order to make their memoirs more entertaining. Fair enough! Who wants to read a book about some dude the end? Narratives, even memoirs, need to have some kind of dramatic engagement or else what is the point of telling them? (One might argue that there is no point, and that memoirs are simply an off-shoot of our current culture’s lack of imagination and its climate of self-entitlement, self-obsession, and micro-celebrity, but that is for another time and another blog.) The point is: Love and Other Drugs, to some extent or another, is loosely based on a true story, so the fact that it gets everything so impossibly weird and wrong when it had a pretty simple blueprint to follow means that it gets double strikes against it. DOUBLE STRIKES! You’re outta here!
When the movie begins, before we are even introduced to any of the characters, the song “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors kicks in. OH YEAH, HERE WE GO! This is gonna be a fun ride. “Two Princes”? Luv that song. Any movie that starts with “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors is gonna be a cool movie. (P.S. I am being sarcastic, but also how much do you want to bet that the reason they chose this song is because the band had the word “Doctors” in their name? That is even more what this movie is like than just the fact that they used a terrible song. Oh brother. Get ready!) We learn that the year is 1996. Huh. OK. I mean, this movie came out in 2010, so a period piece about 1996 seems kind of…lame? Boring? Something between lame and boring and/or a combination of the two. But here is where things start to fall apart: you see, our hero, Jake Gyllenhaal, is a salesman at an electronics store and boy oh boy what a salesman he is. He’s selling things left and right, he’s dancing with the customers, everyone loves him. He’s good at his job! (All the while, the Spin Doctors are IN.) But everything he is selling is NOT FROM 1996. Like, OK, he sells a boombox. That’s fine. But then he is selling FLAT SCREEN TVs! And he is selling A CELL PHONE TO AN OLD WOMAN! 1996 is when some people first started having cell phones, sure, but it was not particularly widespread yet, and old women DEFINITELY were not buying them. Oof. So, already this movie is just upside down and stupid and wrong and not even about the things that are important, like HUMAN BEHAVIOR or HOW MANY PEOPLE IT IS REALISTIC TO BELIEVE KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY and don’t get me started on the PLAYBOY MANSION ORGY PARTY THAT SUPPOSEDLY TAKES PLACE IN THE MIDDLE OF OHIO. (Get me started on that in a few minutes.)
So, Jake Gyllenhaal gets fired from his job at the electronics store for fucking his boss’s girlfriend in the stock room. It turns out he is almost as good at fucking everyone as he is at selling electronics that don’t exist yet! (Very good.) He needs a new job, and his INTERNET MILLIONAIRE (1996) younger brother has a lead (?!) on becoming a pharmaceutical rep for Pfizer, so he does that, and in the meantime, he fucks the woman who trains all the new pharmaceutical reps. After becoming an official drug rep he gets his assignment: Ohio. OH NO, OHIO IS SO LAME! The dream, he learns, is to become the drug rep for Chicago. Ooh la la, I’m sure. Can you just imagine? Being a salesman in Chicago? IT IS CALLED THE DREAM AND WE ALL HAVE IT. (I’m not knocking hard work or anyone’s attempts to climb the corporate ladder. It is important to put food on our families, and there’s nothing better than the pride of a hard day’s work and the security of a real career. But we also all know what work is like, and it can be very hard in a MOVIE-TYPE-SITUATION to really get on board with a highly-paid corporate cog’s desire to be an even more highly-paid corporate cog in a somewhat bigger city.)
One day, in his attempt to sell more drugs than the Evil Pharmaceutical Rep (I am not joking, this movie has a villain who is basically just another pharmaceutical rep? And his name, obviously, is Trey Hannigan) Jake Gyllenhaal gives Hank Azaria a thousand dollars to let him walk around his office with him wearing a doctor’s coat.
That seems mildly unethical to say the least! Oh, speaking of unethical, there is also this mini-plot in which Jake Gyllenhaal keeps stealing his competitor’s medical samples from the drug closet and throwing them in the dumpster, which is, like, FUCKING INSANE and probably A FEDERAL CRIME, but the weirdest part is that they keep showing this homeless person stealing the anti-depressants out of the dumpster and slowly over the course of the movie HIS LIFE GETS BETTER AND HE IS NOT HOMELESS ANYMORE. Well, that’s just fucking offensive.
But, so, Jake Gyllenhaal ends up seeing Anne Hathaway’s tits because Hank Azaria lets him be in the examining room with him while he’s treating a patient, which, again: NO. And fast forward two seconds and now they are fucking.
(Previously, Jake Gyllenhaal was fucking Hank Azaria’s secretary. I think the only person he doesn’t fuck in this movie is Hank Azaria, although there are a lot of vague and weird time-insensitive edits during the PLAYBOY MANSION ORGY PARTY IN THE MIDDLE OF OHIO scene, so who knows.)
Anne Hathaway greatly enjoys fucking Jake Gyllenhaal but she does not let him stay over and she does not want a relationship. Sounds fine to me! And before I forget: SHE HAS PARKINSON’S DISEASE. I’m not saying this is impossible, but even Doctor Hank Azaria, right before we are introduced to Anne Hathaway, says “this chart can’t be right, why does a 26-year-old need Parkinson’s medication?” Like, even THE MOVIE ITSELF sets this up as NOT A PARTICULARLY BELIEVABLE SITUATION. Haha. Way to go, movie. Actually, though, the thing that is far less believable than Anne Hathaway having Parkinson’s is the fact that SHE HAS A HISTORY OF DATING PHARMACEUTICAL REPS (?!?!?!?!) and also SHE APPARENTLY HAS A PHOTOGRAPHIC MEMORY OF THE PILL BOOK. She also goes on a regular bus trip with senior citizens to Canada to get cheaper prescriptions because God forbid for two seconds we forget that this movie is about DIFFERENT MEDICINES. What? Huh? What?
Blah blah blah they fall in love.
Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal is tired of selling anti-depressant medication, he wants a shot at selling this new boner drug called Viagra. And this, of course, is why the movie is set in 1996: because that is when Viagra came out. Except, WHY IS IT SET IN 1996 AND WHY IS THERE A MOVIE ABOUT WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN VIAGRA CAME OUT? That sort of seems like a tautological argument. “We made a movie about Viagra coming out because one time Viagra came out.” Not a good enough reason! Also, uh, I am pretty sure it was never like this.
There is this insane montage where Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway are cheering, CHEERING, when Viagra gets mentioned by Dave Letterman in his late night monologue. UH, WHAT? And Jake Gyllenhaal starts using Viagra samples to BRIBE PEOPLE and there is a scene at a bar where he is surrounded by a dozen women BREATHLESSLY ASKING HIM QUESTIONS ABOUT HOW A NEW PHARMACEUTICAL DRUG WORKS and ending with all of the women chanting “WE WANT MORE VIAGRA!” Right. I guess since none of us has ever been to a bar before we can never know whether or not bars are exactly like that for sure and that they definitely nailed it.
So, Anne Hathaway’s Parkinson’s gets worse, and Jake Gyllenhaal starts getting nervous about what a long-term relationship with a very sick woman would be like, and he starts using his connections in the medical community to try and “cure” her even though there is no cure and he does this by doling out Viagra samples but nevertheless. Anne Hathaway breaks up with him.
He is sad. I’m not sure why. I mean, no offense to anyone with almost-impossibly-early-onset Parkinson’s but that just sounds horrible and I’m not saying it’s not worth toughing it out when you really love someone, but their relationship didn’t seem that great to begin with so maybe he should just move on. He doesn’t, though. Well, he sort of does. He goes with Hank Azaria to a PLAYBOY MANSION ORGY PARTY IN WHAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE MIDDLE OF OHIO. You should have been there, when the Viagra was flowing and Ohio was nothing but wall-to-wall lingerie models and architecturally avant garde mansions. This scene, which is already great, obviously, and includes the actual line of dialogue spoken by an actual actress without breaking into barf-filled laughter: “She’s Thai. And I’m THAICURIOUS,” ends with a 10 minute “comedy” sequence about Jake Gyllenhaal having a boner that won’t go away. It is almost as if this movie is TOO good, you know?
Jake Gyllenhaal lands the Chicago job. Congratulations. But instead, he drives his Porsche alongside Anne Hathaway’s Drug Bus to Canada and tells her that he wants to carry her when she can’t walk anymore, which in a normal movie like this would be a charming way for someone to tell another person that they will never let them go, but in this movie it LITERALLY MEANS he will CARRY HER because she cannot walk anymore because PARKINSON’S. In his closing voice over, he explains that he quit his Pfizer job and is applying to medical school (at the age of 30? He will be a doctor by the time his grandkids are born!) and that you meet a lot of people in your life without knowing them and then you meet one person and it changes your life which is so vague and trite and boring that it is almost hard to believe that’s the last thing that happens before the credits roll but thank God they do because SHEESH.
One of the biggest problems with Love and Other Drugs is that it is bi-polar. (I thought I would honor this movie by using big, clunky, metaphors that in some lazy way reference the medical industry.) It wants to be a comedy and it wants to be a drama. A dramedy if you will. That is an acceptable goal! Comedies sometimes rely way too much on getting laughs at the expense of their humanity, and dramas are often melodramatically serious to the point of absurdity and/or emotional exhaustion. Besides, LIFE can be funny and serious often at the same time! So, sure. A dramedy! The problem, though, is that this movie isn’t very funny, so it fails as a comedy. And its details are so off, and the characters’ motivations so flimsy and unrealistic, that it fails as a drama, too. So it just fails.
In preparing for the film, Hathaway credits the work of Kate Winslet and Penelope Cruz, two actresses “whose work [she] returned to a lot in preparation” for Love and Other Drugs; she believes both have “done nudity with a tremendous amount of sensitivity and dignity.”
Ha. Sensitivity and dignity were kind of the theme of the movie:
And if you can’t get the time period right for the inventory at an electronics store (see above) when it is pretty well-documented AND pretty well-remembered what was and was not for sale in 1996, then how are you going to get the complexities and vagaries of actual life correct? You are not. And this movie doesn’t. Here are a few of the ways in which this movie makes no sense:
-When Jake Gyllenhaal first starts trying to sell drugs to doctors the movie pretends like Pfizer is some kind of start-up company that no one has ever heard of, as opposed to one of the largest and richest pan-national corporations in the world.
-Hank Azaria gives Anne Hathaway a prescription for Parkinson’s medication immediately based on a three minute preliminary meeting and a wad of cash.
-Hank Azaria goes out for drinks on a very regular basis with the same pharmaceutical rep.
-Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway document their blossoming love with a video camera, which is fine, except that the video camera they use is a very specific type of camera made by Fisher Price in the 1980s called the PXL-2000 that recorded grainy black and white video on audio cassettes. These cameras were no longer in production in the 1990s.
-At one point, Anne Hathaway starts shaking very badly and goes to the medicine cabinet only to discover that she is out of Parkinson’s medication. Considering the seriousness of the disease, don’t you think she would know when she was out of medicine? Especially since her every waking moment seems to revolve around an obsession with pills of all kinds?
-Right before Jake Gyllenhaal tells Anne Hathaway that he loves her he has an actual panic attack because it’s so hard to say. Acting!
– Anne Hathaway is constantly picking fights because she doesn’t want anyone to take care of her, which actually is probably kind of realistic, but what is also realistic is that those people end up alone because if you so vehemently don’t want to let anyone help you to the point that you will be kind of abusive with them then they probably won’t.
-For most of the movie, Jake Gyllenhaal’s brother is sleeping on his couch, but after Jake breaks up with Anne Hathaway, they share the bed for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
-Even though Anne Hathaway breaks up with Jake Gyllenhaal, at first when he tries to win her back SHE is mad at HIM? Oh no! Doctor! She overdosed on upside down medicine!
-One million other reasons, I’m sure.
There is one scene in particular (besides the PLAYBOY MANSION ORGY PARTY IN THE MIDDLE OF OHIO) that really seems to encapsulate all of the ways in which Love and Other Drugs gets everything wrong. Jake Gyllenhaal brings Anne Hathway with him to a medical conference in Chicago, and while he is busy chatting up some doctors or whatever, she leaves to go get a cup of tea. Her hand is shaking and an old woman approaches. “Stage 1?” she asks. “If you’re tired of all the bullshit, you should come across the street and find out what’s really going on.” Huh? So Anne Hathway goes across the street to what is purportedly an alternate medical conference, but really it is just a support group (in the middle of the day) for people with Parkinson’s. Fair enough, but what does this have to do with “all the bullshit.” What then happens is a montage of about a dozen people sharing tales of hope and courage, except really all we see is them cracking jokes about their illness.
Now again, fair enough, except: HOW LONG IS THIS SUPPORT GROUP THAT A DOZEN PEOPLE CAN JUST GET UP AND DO THEIR PARKINSON’S STAND UP ROUTINE? Anne Hathaway, of course, laughs and cries. Anyway, she pages Jake Gyllenhaal to come meet her, which he does. After the comedy show ends, Jake is in the reception area getting some snacks and meets a middle-aged man. The middle-aged man asks what stage of the disease Jake’s wife has. “Oh,” he says, “she’s my girlfriend. She’s got stage 1.” The man nods. “Lots of ups and downs,” he says, “good days and bad days.” Jake smiles. “Yeah, mostly good days, though.” The man tells Jake that his wife has stage 4 Parkinson’s. “Any advice to give me?” Jake asks. “Yeah,” the man says, “pack your bags and get the hell out of there.” He then goes on a five minute monologue rant about how horrible it is and how much he hates it, describing a living nightmare. Then he just goes “I love my wife but I wouldn’t do it over again. I’m sorry, I’m out of line.” UH, YEAH, YOU FUCKING ARE OUT OF LINE. This scene is INSANE. Like, I have no doubt that the amount of sacrifice it takes to support and love someone with an illness like Parkinson’s is draining and exhausting and at times makes you doubtful, but also there is no fucking HUSBAND of a Parkinson’s sufferer who is going to bitch about it to a complete stranger IN THE MIDDLE OF A PARKINSON’S SUPPORT GROUP. Ugh. No. Nope.
But also mostly just the PLAYBOY MANSION ORGY PARTY IN THE MIDDLE OF OHIO.
I wish my doctor would give ME a prescription no questions asked for FORGETTING THIS STUPID MOVIE PILLS!