Saturday, January 08, 2011

Love and Other Drugs


Do allow me to name drop here because mention the name Edward Zwick, and some of this director's most epic works come to mind, with Courage Under Fire, Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond and Defiance, almost all of which fall into "making war" territory, but for his latest film Love and Other Drugs focused on "making love". Does he have the chops to pull it off? You bet, and he delivered a smart, sassy and emotionally compelling film that contains a story that sprawls, in which I find three broad parts that I enjoyed.

The first part introduces us to Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a good looking schmuck who gets his way around women always, possessing an irrepressible charm that make them all feel weak in their knees. Being kicked out of his job at an electronic store for his amorous ways, he soon finds himself applying his innate ways with women into his selling routine, now working as a sales rep in the medical industry for Pfizer, which when he joined hasn't created the magical blue pill called Viagra yet.

I'd always wonder whether Pfizer was totally OK with the use of their branding, just like how Up in the Air featured Hilton. After all this section of the film relentlessly pummels you with their sales strategy, arguments and counter-arguments where some aren't really flattering, or even ethical to begin with. It's like a statement of how numbers and quotas are being chased no matter the cost, and their sales training made for some comedic fodder. And to make matters worst, it puts up front how the use of freebies can open up doors which are closed, and to Jamie it also means manipulating women to get at what he wants, especially an account with Dr Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) who in one scene opened up and blabbers about how corrupt the entire industry could be in demolishing one's medical ideals.

So I suppose it's fair game for Pfizer since the story, or at least this part of it, is based on the book "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" by author Jamie Reidy, himself a former Pfizer sales rep, because at least it gets itself everywhere in the film by virtue of Jamie's job. Besides the lessons learnt and applicability in the corporate world, I totally agree with how being good looking puts one at a certain advantage because people like aesthetically pleasing things and beings, or try as hard to deny that such things exist. Things work, appeals work, and just about everything one touches turn into gold, or you get a leg up in your mission in life. This entire part on the bubbling new career of Jamie's I enjoyed and had a huge chuckle from for its bold portrayal of things that cut close to real life.

Then there's the romantic portion of the film that kicked in once Anne Hathaway's Maggie Murdock comes into the picture, piquing Jamie's interest when she revealed a boob and caught him ogling. The love between the two is anything but simple (and I touch on this in a while) since she wants to keep her emotional walls up to prevent from getting hurt again. They reach an agreeable compromise in establishing a relation that's built on purely physical terms, and try as hard as they can to avoid falling into the usual relationship trap. Through their interactions we learn a lot more about their characters, and in these moments come the expansion to prevent them from lapsing into caricature mode.

Both Gyllenhaal and Hathaway score in their respective roles, so much so that it earned them a Golden Globe nomination each. Gyllenhaal's Jamie develops from schmuck to an all round nice guy, something which love does of course since it forces you to care about somebody else, while Hathaway has to mimic an early stage of Parkinson's for her Maggie role, and brings to light some basic understanding of sufferers for the disease in which there's still no cure. After all, modern medicine seems to be interested in developing products that have mass market demand (like Viagra) appealing to the primal desires of men (and women too) which automatically translates to profits. Needless to say having been on screen together (sans clothes too in Brokeback Mountain) meant some natural chemistry already established and which they shared

But the third part to the film was the home run for me. It defines the concept of unconditional love, other than the innate one that a mom will always possess for her kids. You'll know someone is right for you, and there's no point denying it anyway, when they choose to stick by you when they know the going will get tough, that things will turn out quite the nightmare and disadvantageous, but decide to do so nonetheless. It takes the concept of "in sickness and in health" and weaves a strong emotional narrative around it in this film, where a couple not yet bounded by matrimonial vows, decide to adopt its concept implicitly. One is a sufferer from an incurable, long term disease, afraid to get too close to someone in fear of being pitied upon, or unfairly bogging down and clipping another's wings when the other half has opportunities to take off and fly.

Having to live with and care for someone suffering in similar terms, made this easily identifiable, and sledgehammered the film home for me, although the problem may not be the same, but the issues and concepts behind it totally relatable, having to witness it unfold in front of my eyes. The concept of care and concern isn't and cannot be plain lip service, but has to be sustainable, actionable items done not out of duty or obligation, but out of love that's unconditional. For any single out there in Jamie's shoes, one has the option to take flight since you're single and available with no lack of suitors, or you could stick with the Maggie type but not out of pity since it will never work in the long term. If you could do the latter without any qualms, I think you've found that special someone.

But no, the film isn't that sombre in mood always, and contains plenty of comedy also courtesy of Oliver Platt as Jamie's sales manager, and that of Josh Gad playing Jamie's uncouth brother Josh, a one time internet paper millionaire until the dot com bubble burst, having to live on the couch in Jamie's apartment, the details of his shenanigans best left for you to find out from the film. The strength of Love and Other Drugs come from the development and transformation of characters and their relationships with each other, which dialogues that reminded me of, of all films, Jerry Maguire, set against an historical backdrop of developments in the medical industry that shook up the whole world. As I said, it's smart and all encompassing for a film like how Zwick likes his films to be, and I'm sure has elements that you'll identify with and enjoy.

I'm firmly putting this in my Highly Recommended list, and an early shoo in as one of the best of this year, even though it's early. Now excuse me as I go practice my Hey Lisa routine!

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