Ah, the mainstream romantic-comedy, cinematic poster-child for the law of diminishing returns. As time goes by, romantic-comedies seem to get worse and worse. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a matter of ridiculous gimmicks or over-the-top antics or outlandish situations or wacky protagonists. I present exhibit-A: 1938’s Bringing Up Baby, an amazing romantic/screwball comedy and a personal favorite, a story about a man and woman… and her pet cheetah, Baby, and the series of misadventures they find themselves tangled in. Perfect. A romantic comedy that is actually funny, kinda kooky, and, above all, interesting.
Fast-forward 72 years to 2010–past the boring slew of Katherine Heigl movies that all look pretty much the same: 27 Dresses, The Ugly Truth (not to be confused with 1937’s infinitely more entertaining Irene Dunne/Cary Grant comedy The Awful Truth), Killers, and Life As We Know It–and we get Love & Other Drugs, a welcomed change of pace from the homogenized, pedestrian and primarily PG-13 pap.
However, this is not to say that Love & Other Drugs is, by any means, an amazing movie. Passable, yes. Entertaining, sure. Funny, at times. But amazing, not quite. Fortunately, Love & Other Drugs is closer to the likes of When Harry Met Sally… and Love Actually on the spectrum of romantic-comedies, with a dash of Kevin Smith/Judd Apatow-raunchiness thrown in for good measure.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Jamie Randall, a silver-tongued Lothario climbing the corporate ladder in pharmaceutical sales. Working for Pfizer in the late 90s, Jamie’s personal and professional interests intersect when the company releases Viagra. In the process of peddling his wares, Jamie meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), an equally libidinous artist with early onset Parkinson’s disease. The two embark on a no-strings-attached fuck-fest, which gets complicated, then turns into a relationship, which gets more complicated, yada yada yada… it’s a romantic-comedy, you get the point. SPOILER ALERT And in spite of the fact that Parkinson’s disease is a bit of twist and could make for an unconventional Dying Young-like departure from the typical “happily ever after” rom-com ending, you know it ends with Mr. Right’s mad-dash to win back the heart of the “One That Got Away.”
And I’m fine with that. There’s a formula. It’s hard to get away from. Whatever. I can deal… as long as there are interesting things happening on the periphery of the love story, which there are. With most romantic-comedies, the funniest elements are rarely the protagonists, while Jake Gyllenhaal seems very comfortable with comedy, coming off quite funny at times, and Anne Hathaway’s wry delivery can be equally comical, the supporting cast still steals the show. Oliver Platt plays Bruce, Jamie’s hilariously manic mentor, goading Jamie on as his ticket to the “big show.” Josh Gad plays Jamie’s millionaire-train-wreck of a brother, whose ridiculous antics practically steal the film. In a subtle, but still funny turn, Hank Azaria plays Jamie’s prized client, Dr. Knight. And the effervescent Judy Greer plays his receptionist, Cindy.
When it’s funny, it’s really funny. The problem is, some of the elements of the film dealing with Parkinson’s disease take to such a dark place that it’s hard to go back to laughing about dick jokes. It’s been a long time since director Edward Zwick‘s last foray into romantic-comedy with David Mamet‘s About Last Night… Perhaps some of the drama from his more somber works of late–Defiance, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai–is still too close to the surface. There’s one scene in particular that feels nothing like a romantic comedy, but more like a cut scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Scary.
While it’s not the most original film, it’s funny without being cloying, raunchy without being juvenile. All in all, Love & Other Drugs is an entertaining film, not quite as good as When Harry Met Sally, but an acceptable temporary fix. It’s nice to see an adult romantic-comedy that isn’t watered down to appeal to the largest possible demographic.