A Stanley Kramer for our times, director Edward Zwick has spent much of his career raising social consciousness—about war (Glory, Courage Under Fire, Defiance), terrorism (The Siege), and human exploitation (Blood Diamond)—while lowering pulses. At his worst, his films act as delivery systems for whatever issue happens to be on his mind at the moment, and they tend to be plagued with a deflating earnestness. His latest, Love And Other Drugs, takes aim at the evils of the pharmaceutical industry, but Zwick and his actors, Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, seem determined to keep it from becoming An Edward Zwick Film, at least in the early going. Charged by an unusually explicit central relationship and a surprisingly tart critique of Big Pharma excesses, Love And Other Drugs gets wound up in a fascinating tangle of ill-advised romance and even more ill-advised pill-pushing gamesmanship. It’s the untangling that’s the problem.
Following an arc close to Leonardo DiCaprio’s reformed mercenary in Blood Diamond, Gyllenhaal stars as a charming, overeager fortune-chaser who takes a job as a traveling salesman with Pfizer. Paired with a cynical, battle-weary veteran (a terrific Oliver Platt), Gyllenhaal zips around the Midwest, pleading with doctors to take Zoloft over his competitor’s more popular anti-depressant, Prozac. Meanwhile, he strikes up a torrid relationship with Hathaway, an early-stage Parkinson’s sufferer who accommodates him in the bedroom, but isn’t looking for anything more serious. When a little blue miracle pill called Viagra hits the market, Gyllenhaal’s business prospects take a dramatic turn for the better, but his feelings for Hathaway complicate his future.
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have great chemistry together, and the best scenes in Love And Other Drugs are unexpectedly libertine in the way they depict a sexual bond leading to an emotional one. There’s also something moving in Hathaway’s resistance to a relationship she knows will be troubled by any decline in her condition. But inevitably, the film takes a turn toward the conventional, as Zwick pursues Gyllenhaal’s redemption-of-a-bastard story on two fronts—professional and personal—and hits the nail harder on pharmaceutical abuses. After resisting much of the way, Love And Other Drugs finally asks the audience to forget the terrible impasse between its lovers and treat them like players in a romantic comedy. When Gyllenhaal stops selling out, the movie starts.