In the press notes for Love & Other Drugs, it is asserted that one of the film’s unique selling points is the inversion of the conventional love story; a relationship initiated by sexual desire which culminates in mutual love. Broadly speaking, this is true of the rom-com genre, which relies on varying degrees of chastity in favour of presenting a slutty image; sex only ‘validated’ once the pair have made a firm and solid commitment to one another, if indeed they aren’t already planning to get married.
However, Love & Other Drugs is not strictly a rom-com in the same way Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t the feel good film of last year; it might have a happy outcome but the journey along the way is far from cosy or easy-going. Suffering from the early onset of Parkinson’s disease, Maggie (Anne Hathaway) finds the foundations of her world rocked by the arrival of Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal), a slimy drug company representative who inexplicably puts her under his magic spell; an unconvincing concoction of arrogance and supposed charm which leaves every woman with the capacity to breathe dribbling with desire in his wake. Maggie proves to be a stronger force than Jamie’s average bedfellows and, for the first time, he falls in love but with a woman afflicted by an incurable disease who may well be unrecognisable within twenty years.
Set in 1996, Jamie, himself a medical school dropout, revels in his ability to exploit the weaknesses of the US healthcare system, specifically its vulnerability to lobbying and bribery. His best asset? A James Bondesque way with women, locked into a perennial cycle of mentally undressing them with his eyes until their clothes do eventually physically fall off. He’s the direct descendent of Thank You For Smoking’s Nick Naylor and Up In The Air’s Ryan Bingham, both corporate monsters whose souls are gradually being eroded by the nature of the product and their commercial environment.
What separates Ryan and Nick from Jamie is the latter’s complete absence of screen presence essential to carry this type of role which, to Gyllenhaal’s credit, is not aided by a weak and formulaic screenplay. Once the agonising begins over Maggie’s condition and their future together is temporarily put on hold, neither character has particularly endeared themselves to the audience which, again, becomes hampered by a narrative laced with cinematic clichés, including a high speed chase to win back the affections of a loved one.
Love & Other Drugs would probably prefer to see itself as being inspirational and politically relevant as the US struggles with Obama’s healthcare reforms when, in truth, it’s a misogynistic and generic disappointment that cynically adopts Parkinson’s disease as a device rather than a subject. Like prescribed medication it leaves a bad taste in the mouth after an overdose of infantile comedy (at its most facile Jamie discovers his brother masturbating to a sex video of himself with Maggie) and a saccharine misjudged romance plot.