Romantic comedies tend to be a rough sell when it comes to talking me into watching it and be excited about it. I tend to be more accepting of the R rated efforts as the comedy is often less retrained and in some way more honest; anything less than R winds up being very vague and watered down, leaving very little to make it memorable. The last two I’ve had the chance to see have left me with fewer regrets than I normally have after watching them. GOING THE DISTANCE landed several big laughs and leaned heavily on jokes where as LOVE & OTHER DRUGS did most of the same but also features the two leads wearing nothing but their birthday suits through the majority of the movie. I will say LOVE & OTHER DRUGS attempts to be much sexier with its comedy but as it slowly mixes in the sappy elements in the last half it started being a bit of a chore, but overall there is enough humor and sex abound to make it enjoyable for men watching it under protest.
Set initially in the mid 90′s, starts with Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) as a smooth talking and confident salesman working magic in an electronics store before a violent falling out with management. From there he is coaxed into entering the competitive world of drug reps by his successful younger brother. Jamie becomes a rep for the drug company Pfizer and sent to relentlessly sell Zoloft to doctors that are hesitant to switch from the more popular drug, Prozac. His new profession facilitates a run in with Maggie (Anne Hathaway), who is a free spirit not looking to settle down or ask anyone else to feel anything deeper for her than brief sexual encounters, due to the fact she is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. The two’s relationship gradually evolves to the point that Jamie and Maggie both have to analyze how their future will be and where they both fit in each other’s lives.
What caught me by surprise was the very light and playful first half of the film. The first hour or so leans heavily on sex and sex jokes that’s common is most R rated comedies, but if you knew nothing else about the movie the extent to the amount of sex is surprising if you’ve only seen the trailer. The banter between characters feels a lot like another 2010 comedy, GOING THE DISTANCE, except I felt it was a little less effective with this group of characters. The film is funny and there are a few big laughs but aside from the two leads everyone else becomes blurred in the background.
Gyllenhaal is likable and charismatic but Hathaway’s performance becomes the more memorable aspect. Hathaway is funny and cute but she’s also very good at delivering the dramatic elements even though in the last half hour or more it seems a bit heavy handed. The relationship between the two is believable and charming as it is and would have worked even if Hathaway’s character wasn’t suffering from Parkinson’s. Once that part of the story starts to force its way to the center of attention the mood of the film drops severely from fun and charming to sad and over dramatic. The emotional beats are there and are effective to some extent but at the same time feels like a cheap way to illicit the responses.
The performances are all decent enough but no one stands out as much as Gyllenhaal and Hathaway. Josh Gad is there for a lot of the comic relief especially in the second half, but looks and acts kind of like a young Jack Black. I enjoyed what was there of Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt but both of them feel criminally underused.
Third act collapses are more common than not and while I would call the last act of LOVE & OTHER DRUGS a failure I do feel like it tainted a lot of the good it had established early on. The film is not without an abundance of heart and good intentions but it forces itself on you like a drunken prom date clumsily frisking near the hot spots before passing out in the home stretch. Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are both endearing and charming and there are plenty of good jokes to go around but the heavy handed emotional baggage towards the end has the potential to severely dampen one’s enjoyment.