[Screen It]

(2010) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway) (R)

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Romantic Dramedy: A pharmaceutical sales rep ends up falling for a young woman who has early onset Parkinson's Disease but wants no one's pity and isn't interested in a serious relationship.
Jamie Randall (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) is a natural born salesman and ladies man, but his amorous ways have lead to him being fired from his latest job. Unlike his younger brother, Josh (JOSH GAD) who made a fortune from a stock IPO, Jamie has no money to fall back on, and thus gets a sales rep job for a major pharmaceutical company.

Paired with veteran sales rep Bruce Winston (OLIVER PLATT), Jamie hits the road, trying to sell his company's wares to the likes of general practitioner Dr. Stan Knight (HANK AZARIA). To get to him, he sweeps one the doc's receptionists, Cindy (JUDY GREER), off her feet, but she becomes jealous when Jamie obviously shows interest in one of Stan's patients.

She's 26-year-old Maggie Murdock (ANNE HATHAWAY), a pretty woman who's facing her early onset Parkinson's Disease with humor and a willingness to live life to the fullest, including sleeping around. One of her last lovers was Trey Hannigan (GABRIEL MACHT), a sales rep for a rival pharmaceutical company that's also after the likes of Stan, but that doesn't stop her from bedding Jamie with the caveat that everything remains casual.

Yet, as he finally wins a way in to become Stan's favorite sales rep -- via a new little pill known as Viagra -- Jamie finds himself falling for Maggie, much to her dismay, although she eventually starts to feel the same way. With them facing an uncertain future -- regarding his career potential and her disease -- they have to figure out what's going to happen with them.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
At a recent seminar I attended, a speaker brought up the ridiculousness of pharmaceutical companies marketing their products directly to consumers. He wasn't pointing out over the counter medications, but rather prescription-based ones that need a doctor as the middle-man, if you will, who's the only one who can deliver the product to the patient. In other words, the companies have resorted to creating demand in the customer who then goes to their physician and thus wants, expects and/or demands to receive it, based on those ads that have flooded the marketplace.

Of course, it wasn't always like this, as pharmaceutical manufacturers had to sell the old-fashioned, hard way -- at conventions, seminars and via sales reps who'd literally knock on doors to get their company's latest product in the line of sight of as many doctors as possible. Who knows what sort of pleading, cajoling, demanding and/or bribing took place behind closed doors, all of which resulted in the medications prescribed to you, your family, friends and strangers.

I have no idea what product was the first to pitch directly to the buyer, but I have a guess. After all, while people might be interested in reducing the symptoms of or entirely eliminating heartburn, gas, high cholesterol, baldness and more, such maladies -- and the cure for them -- lack a certain degree of sexiness. But if one were able to target sex itself and a certain matter of impotence (now known as erectile dysfunction that's been truncated down to just "ED"), then you might be on to something that gets everyone's attention.

That little blue pill and how it changed the pharmaceutical world serves as part of the backdrop of "Love and Other Drugs," an average romantic comedy that throws in elements from other genres and shows a great deal more of its stars than most viewers were probably expecting. And those two would be Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway who are teamed together for the second time as lovers (following "Brokeback Mountain"), although they make their earlier coupling seem tame in comparison.

I always thought it was goofy that films that depict love making (and often show all sorts of steamy acrobatics in the act) then resort to the old movie convention of the couple being under the covers, with the guy at least showing his bare chest, but the woman making sure to keep her body parts covered, even when sitting or getting up. Granted, that was sometimes to keep the MPAA rating down a notch, but it just felt artificial.

No such artificiality exists here, as the two don't hold much back, thus ensuring this comes off as a decidedly adult rom-com. Yet, for reasons that can only be explained as apparently contractual in nature, the filmmakers -- writer/director Edward Zwick ("The Last Samurai," "Glory") and co-writers Charles Randolph & Marshall Herskovitz (who adapt Jamie Reidy's "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman" -- employ that genre's usual structure. The two would-be lovers meet cute in a humorously antagonistic fashion, fall for and then sleep together, become a couple despite built-in concerns, then break up, and finally get back together, all accompanied by various montages.

All of which is too bad since that blueprint is so dog-eared that nary a surprise can be found within it anymore and, equally as notable, the film seems to start off as something not only different, but better. And that is a focus on the lives of sales reps, this time in the pharmaceutical world, who are on the road trying to convince physicians to try their company's goods. After he's fired for sleeping with his boss' girlfriend or wife, Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets a new job selling pharmaceutical products alongside veteran rep Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt).

While hitting up Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), and competing with the likes of rival sales rep Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht), Jamie ends up meeting a young and pretty woman (Anne Hathaway) who sees right through him, but not before exposing her bare breast to him and Knight in the latter's exam room. Thus begins the rom-com aspect of the film, but it also includes something that easily could have turned the film into a "disease of the week" TV style offering.

And that comes from introducing that the 26-year-old Maggie has early onset Parkinson's. While that does factor into how things play out between the budding couple, the filmmakers thankfully avoid going the maudlin or manipulative route. It does give the two time to delve into something deeper than the usual rom-com offers, but I actually found a scene featuring a small gathering of similar sufferers as far more emotionally affecting (even if I don't know if they're the real deal or just other actors playing the parts).

For some much needed comic relief, the story throws in Josh Grad as Jamie's younger adult brother who's rich, but has been kicked out by his wife for his immature behavior. He then hangs out with his bro, hoping to ride his coattails of casual sex, while also serving as the shocked witness in the obligatory scene where the woman shows off her body to her new boyfriend, only to be caught in the act by said bystander. When not doing that, Grad seems to be going for a lite version of a typical Zach Galifianakis goofball character.

Not satisfied with having enough material with which to work, the filmmakers also throw in additional digs at the pharmaceutical and health care industries, including not so subtle slams on the former for focusing more attention on erection issues than more serious ones such as Parkinson's, or that Maggie occasionally coordinates buses of senior citizens to drive into Canada for available and cheaper drugs.

That's a lot of content to juggle, but for the most part the filmmakers and cast decently handle it. The performances are good but not outstanding, which also holds true for the flick. Perhaps with a few more screenplay drafts or trips through the editing booth, or simply sticking more with the "life of a pharmaceutical sales rep" angle, this might have morphed and/or been modified into something great. And while the sex scenes and nudity might help some men facing ED issues, they don't provide enough of a remedy for the usual rom-com blues. "Love and Other Drugs" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 16, 2010 / Posted November 24, 2010

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