But wait! Then Viagra is invented—we'd be in 1998 now—and the movie shifts gears into raucous sex comedy as Jamie becomes an overnight success, a high-living enabler of orgy enthusiasts and lubricious doctors (one of them played by an underused Hank Azaria). Oh, and Maggie attends a meeting of an advocacy group for Parkinson's patients and is inspired by the many high-functioning people she meets. Are we supposed to shed a tear for the sick girl, cheer on the activists, or laugh at the guy with a four-hour erection? In a way, it's to Zwick's credit that he expects us to have all three feelings, and a few others besides. In its best moments Love and Other Drugs can have a James L. Brooksian amplitude of spirit. Unfortunately, there are long stretches in between when the movie just feels glib, sprawling, and confused.
Though their characters are drawn in richer detail than your usual Hollywood cutouts, Jamie and Maggie don't make that much sense, either together or apart. If Maggie really is as disgusted by the pharmaceutical industry as she claims, why does she cheer Jamie on as he makes a killing on the Viagra craze? Why do we learn virtually nothing about Maggie's family, while Jamie gets a whole scene with his clan? (His family is headed up by the late Jill Clayburgh, who appears, looking heartbreakingly lovely, as his mother in an early scene.) How come Oliver Platt appears once every 20 minutes as a character we're supposed to care about, but never gets a moment to establish his backstory?
Looking back on Love and Other Drugs, I'm not even sure whether I can recommend it or not. It contains some "get me out of here" moments, many of them involving the character of Jamie's fat, nerdy brother (Josh Gad), but it also packs some powerful scenes between Hathaway and Gyllenhaal. Hathaway's performance is the showier one—she gets the trembling hands and the emotional breakdowns—but Gyllenhaal's is in its way more impressive, since he has the tougher job of turning an initially repellent character into a credible romantic hero.
Is there anyone out there who remembers Edward Zwick's first feature film, About Last Night… (1986)? It was a loose adaptation of a David Mamet play in which Rob Lowe and Demi Moore, just grown out of their St. Elmo's phase, played a pair of hard-partying young adults in Chicago who took a long time to realize that, beneath their veneer of studied indifference, they actually were made for each other. Jim Belushi and Elizabeth Perkins played their loyal, wisecracking seconds (and were both completely great—possibly the only time I've loved Jim Belushi in a role). Though I'm sure it would look corny and dated in retrospect, I have curiously fond memories of About Last Night…, which, like this movie, is about two very specific and not always admirable characters falling reluctantly in love. See Love and Other Drugs, wait 24 years, then get back to me.