If Gyllenhaal had a moustache, this could easily be a pic from Brokeback Mountain. Celebrities just don’t age. Not like we do.

The trailer sold Love and Other Drugs as a romantic comedy that would be fairly light and breezy and focus on how two 20-somethings living in the economic bubble age would meet up and learn about love. It appeared to be the kind of movie where a shallow, skirt-chasing dude on the fast track would meet a woman, fall in love, and learn more about himself and how not to be an asshat. The trailers got that part right, but some interesting elements are constructed around the cliches.

One of the things I noticed is that there’s more going on here. From the backdrop of pharmaceutical influence on the medical industry to the familiar agonies of living with disease and living with loved ones with disease, Love and Other Drugs is trying to be real about life and it mostly succeeds. Part of its success is that the two leads come out swinging, bringing a full range of dimensionality to what could have been blatant shells of characters acting out what the patterns of this type of film demand of them like puppets on a string. Instead, we get two very real people dealing with some very real shit.

Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn’t just some random shallow turd that gets sparkled into a gem by the end, he’s a guy with some deep-seated self-esteem issues brought on by a family filled with overachievers and his resultant inability to care about anything. Here’s a guy who, like the archetype he recalls, is coasting through life just trying to get his. The character changes, though, and this is not some melodramatic instant-switch like in weaker movies of this kind. His inner self is revealed over the course of the film and the cliche moment of decision (get the girl or let her go forever) is backed by the strong characterization. It’s not like he changes in that instant, it’s that all the changes he’s undergone have brought him to that point. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the best actors of his generation and it’s nice to see him bring something interesting to such a familiar trope.

Maggie (Anne Hathaway) is a beautiful young artist forced to live with early-onset Parkinson’s. She’s a fighter with a lot of compassion but uses her affliction as a shield to fend people off. She’s got a past with someone who could be seen as very like Jamie in some ways and this provides the justification for her guardedness. In a lesser film, she would just irrationally use her illness as a way to foil the advances of a love-seeking suitor, but here it’s about having gone down that road before and this history is there to show that Maggie doesn’t just do shit for no reason. Or so that there are obstacles to build a movie around. That said, she definitely pretends people are just interested out of pity because she’s afraid to be a burden. Until late in the film, she’s sort of living in a state of denial which she passes off as acceptance and feisty will to persevere. She’s the type who holds on to “fake it til you make it” like the Titanic is going down around her. Her issues also have a lot to do with self-esteem and so she’s kind of a mirror for Jamie, giving him the chance to bring things out himself that he didn’t know were there. And why their romance is so believable has everything to do with that he also does this for her.

So in the end, this is another fable about the transformative power of love. Your enjoyment of this movie will relate directly to your belief in that sort of thing.

Some stuff might be hard to swallow, but I think this is a film that is simply optimistic about relationships, even ones burdened with huge obstacles like debilitating illness. It might have been stronger if Maggie was sicker, but there’s enough evidence of how fucked up her life is over the disease that we don’t necessarily need it. This is not a Nicholas fucking Sparks movie (I think!) and thankfully, it doesn’t feel like one.

While Love and Other Drugs does look like just another romcom with a heart and a message, it’s a bit more real than that. I’m not saying everything is super realistic, but the emotional honesty of the film definitely is. In terms of what these two are grappling with and the ways they find to and away from each other, there’s a lot of truth here and that makes it worth a glance.

I should also mention that Oliver Platt is in this and gives another awesome little performance, though he is underused. I love Platt and I think I will call his little bits in movies “Plattitudes”.

Plus, Anne Hathaway is gorgeous and naked all the time in this movie. So is Jake Gyllenhaal and while that’s less important to me, some reading this might appreciate the head’s up.

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