Love and Other Drugs careens from bathos to bromance to naked sexytime.

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Nov. 23 2010 10:05 AM

Emotional Overdose

Love and Other Drugs careens from bathos to bromance to naked sexytime.

Love & Other Drugs. Click image to expand.
Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in Love and Other Drugs

One thing I'll say for Love and Other Drugs (20th Century Fox): It doesn't feel like any other romantic comedy of recent years or, really, any romantic comedy I can think of. Though the film partakes in its share of the genre's clichés (including one character's last-act revelation that he or she truly loves another character after all, and must race across town to find him or her), it rarely inspires a fed-up eye roll. The expression it engenders is more of a quizzical knit brow.

Dana Stevens Dana Stevens

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

What exactly is director and screenwriter Edward Zwick—co-creator of thirtysomethingand My So-Called Life, whose last film was the WWII thriller Defiance—up to in this combination love story/medical drama/Big Pharma satire/raunchy sex comedy? Careening from bathos to bromance to naked sexytime, the movie is like a mashup of three or four different movies, at least two of them fairly unpleasant. And yet Love and Other Drugs is so sincere and unjaded about its mystifying purpose that it keeps our gaze fixed on the screen for the full two hours. Or maybe that's just Anne Hathaway's nude body.

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Hathaway's body is a perfectly acceptable reason to plunk down a ten-spot for this movie. Not only is it gorgeous—in a lanky-yet-voluptuous way you would probably never have guessed without the, er, access this movie provides—but Hathaway's face engages the camera like nobody's since early Julia Roberts. (Hathaway doesn't particularly resemble Roberts, but they share a toothiness and a luminescence.) The movie's attitude toward nudity is almost European in its casualness: In Hathaway's first scene she undergoes a breast exam, and just when you expect the camera to cut away demurely—pop! She yanks up her shirt and gives both doctor and audience a peek. The movie's unprurient randiness is one of its more lovable qualities; unlike most Hollywood films about two people falling in love, it acknowledges how big a part plain old-fashioned good sex plays in the process.

Good sex is especially important for the protagonists of Love and Other Drugs, because it's one of their few ways of connecting successfully with other humans. Neither Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) nor Maggie Murdock (Hathaway) is your typical please-love-me rom-com character. Jamie is a fast-talking sales rep for Pfizer. It's the mid-'90s, and Jamie's days are spent pestering doctors to start prescribing Zoloft rather than Prozac as their antidepressant of choice. (The movie's portrait of the pharmaceutical industry is loosely based on a nonfiction book by a former Pfizer rep.) He's not having a lot of luck with the doctors, but he's cleaning up with their female receptionists and nurses—apparently all Jamie has to do is buy a woman flowers and ply her with patently insincere pickup lines, and she vaults into his bed. Jamie's slick charm is shown to us, right from the opening scene, as a transparently fake cover-up for his ambition and greed. He's not a bad guy at heart, but he's clearly damaged, and not in an appealing puppy-dog way.

Hathaway's Maggie also departs from the rom-com template of niceness: She's sexually aggressive, dirty-mouthed, reflexively sarcastic, and often self-pitying. Granted, Maggie has good reason to feel sorry for herself: At 26, she's been diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's, and she's staring down an unknown future that could include dementia and paralysis. When she meets Jamie at her doctor's office, she winds up in bed with him because she recognizes him as a kindred spirit, a fellow commitment-averse slut. And that's exactly the relationship they pursue, shagging Fatal Attraction-style against the kitchen sink and then repairing to their separate apartments, until Maggie's sickness gets worse and they begin, to their mutual horror, to care about one another.

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