Since American movies tend to be prudish about sex, especially having bona fide stars appear to do it onscreen, Love & Other Drugs' desire to thoroughly acquaint us with a topless Anne Hathaway and a bottomless Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome change. But at the risk of seeming ungrateful, the way this mashup of Love Story and Jerry Maguire brags about its characters' fantastic sex life is something of a turnoff. While Hathaway and Gyllenhaal have good chemistry, and director Edward Zwick moves the narrative along nicely, the film is too self-satisfied to be genuinely touching. We remain spectators observing the greatness of their love, physical and otherwise.
Artistic Maggie (Hathaway) has fantastic boobs and early-onset Parkinson's disease. She's not dying like Ali MacGraw, but she's deteriorating. Her sense of impending doom has made her determined to remain at a remove from any man she sleeps with, but at the same time, to self-medicate with orgasms. Pfizer pharmaceutical rep Jamie (Gyllenhaal), meanwhile, has a sizable member and a cold heart. We see no actual evidence of the former this is only a full-dorsal movie but Jamie's loser younger brother Josh (Josh Gad) tells us so, and about this subject we have to assume no brother would wish to exaggerate. Evidence of the latter: Jamie has never said "I love you" to anyone, including his parents. Somebody better complete somebody here, and fast. The movie begins in 1996, with college dropout Jamie demonstrating his ability to sell anything to anyone in a record store, including his own caddish self (he's depicted as an irresistible Lothario). They meet when Maggie turns up with a wad of cash she has no health insurance at the office of a smarmy doctor (Hank Azaria) whom Jamie has been trying to persuade to start prescribing Pfizer's antidepressant. (In exchange for enjoying the movie-length advertisement of its wares first Zoloft and then Viagra Pfizer merely has to endure the mockery of its training process, which involves go-go dancers, the Macarena and sales leaders who sleep with their trainees.)
Jamie, then, knows the score about Maggie's health at the outset. But that's fine, since he's only interested in scoring, and so (apparently) is Maggie, at least in the beginning. By the time they're eating Chinese takeout in a rumpled bed together, the way couples in movies always do, we know they're in love.
After capable but merely cute beginnings (The Princess Diaries), Hathaway has become a wonderful actress. If you didn't fall for her during Brokeback Mountain, in which she also played opposite Gyllenhaal, or Rachel Getting Married, you might have during her perfect Katie Holmes impression on Saturday Night Live on Nov. 20. She gives more to the character of Maggie than Zwick and Charles Randolph's screenplay does. The trappings get in the way: she's a collage artist, she lives in an artfully disheveled loft with a clawfoot tub in the middle of the living area, she escorts busloads of senior citizens to Canada to obtain cheaper prescription drugs. This last item in particular seems like such a cheap way to establish Maggie's integrity and goodness; Hathaway can do that with her eyes. Zwick and Randolph also put words in her mouth that really don't fit, like the prickly little speech she makes to Jamie about why he'd want to be with her "Why? Why? What are you trying to prove?" that rings false for a woman with Maggie's self-possession. Hathaway is very good. The problem is the movie is not as good as she is.
On the other hand, Gyllenhaal, not to damn with faint praise, is exactly as good as the movie which is to say, he's fun to watch but not all that convincing when it comes to plumbing the depths. Love & Other Drugs has a solid pedigree, dramatic urges and more raunch than usual, but it's still a rom-com. First proof positive, the presence of Judy Greer, a mainstay of chick flicks, playing one of Jamie's conquests. Second proof positive, the character of Josh, who has been wedged into Jamie's Ohio River Valley existence on the slimmest of sitcom pretenses. Josh's marriage is in trouble and he needs a couch to crash on, even though he recently made $5 million on an IPO. He's really here to make sure we know Maggie's breasts are lovely (Mr. Swick, we're not blind), amp up the Apatow-style humor (Gad is a poor man's Jonah Hill) and be in constant awe of the sex Maggie and Jamie are having in the next room. I grew tired of being told how hot it all was. Within these cynical confines, it's no wonder that the classic rom-com epiphany the one in which one character realizes they can't live without the other comes during a nostalgic viewing of a chatty sex tape.