Dec 13, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

A comedy by Ed Zwick: Five words that should make you run for the hills. Zwick, purveyor of massively important epic spectacles, brings his sledgehammer touch to this cliché-ridden groaner that is supposed to be about Viagra but ends up being about Parkinson's disease. Zwick is a director who wouldn't know a light touch if a feather tickled his ass, so it is not surprising that everything in this film feels strained and belabored to the point of collapse. The two poor leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, are forced to ham up every single scene. A director with a lighter hand would have told Gyllenhaal that active listening doesn't have to mean exercising your eyebrows and widening those beautiful blues as if they were taking an extreme aerobics class. Gyllenhaal is not a very interesting actor, but he has a really sweet presence and it takes an heroic effort to turn him into something almost unwatchable. As for Hathaway, I hope that after the equally horrid Rachel at The Wedding, she does not become an expert on brittle and insufferable female sufferers who insist on shunning love, because the girl is straining under the weight of all that fake defiance that doesn't seem to come naturally to her. Maggie, the character she plays, not only has the onset of Parkinson's, as befits any disease movie of the week she seems to have absolutely no friends or relatives and nothing in this world but a pair of distressed overalls, and that's because she is an artist. And artists in movies must wear overalls even though nobody in real life has worn an overall in the past 40 years and all she does as an artist (who lives in an arty loft) is cut and paste photos with Elmer's Glue into a scrapbook. I also would like to declare a moratorium on romantic comedy characters eating Chinese food with chopsticks from the containers. It may have worked in Annie Hall, but once is enough.
Poor Anne Hathaway thinks she is acting up a storm, but her character as written and directed is enormously charmless and one wonders why  anyone would want to put up with such a pill. She is a strange beauty, with eyes the size of saucers and an enormous mouth, so restraint must be used, otherwise her features seem like something out of the funhouse at Asbury Park. But one cannot ask restraint from Ed Zwick, a director who thinks everything must be expressed to death. (The only movie of his I've ever liked, much to my surprise, is Defiance).
I feel sorry for the two leads. I think they were duped into taking all their clothes off, (a first in American movies apparently since the 70s) in the hope that they were making something edgy, with artistic dignity. I'm sure they took the gamble dreaming of awards season but their director (with his two co-writers!) failed them. Every situation is a worn cliché, every scene is contrived and ridiculous.
The only moments of respite in this movie come from Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria, two charming and gifted actors that can make everything that is horrible watchable and enjoyable. Josh Gad provides comic relief as Gyllenhaal's fat slob of a brother even as he is a walking cliche.
Besides Zwick, the movie has a big marketing problem. It is adapted from a book by a pharma rep, which to me is the main reason why it should not have been made in the first place. Who believes a pharma rep? Had I been in the pitch meeting about the Viagra rep who finds love in a victim of Parkinson's, I would have groaned right then and there. But there is no end to the attraction for the phony in Hollywood, and this is the result, a transparently phony film about a man who finally finds he has a heart, leaves ambition for the woman he loves, and all that vomit.
The movie is being sold like it is a comedy about a Viagra rep, not as a hankie wringer, so at the beginning we think we are watching a comedy and then it turns out that we are watching some kind of tearjerker. It's not that the twain shall never meet. Please see any great Italian comedy of the 50s and the 60s to see how you can gloriously mix laughter with pathos. Please see Nights of Cabiria, or Billy Wilder's The Apartment. But in Love and Other Drugs, the comedy is so grating, so unsure of itself, so unfunny, that I was actually praying for the tearjerking to start. I was hoping that the tearjerking would at least relieve us from the embarrassment, but unfortunately it is as fake as the rest of the film.

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