April 18, 2014

This Week’s Popcorn – ‘Love and Other Drugs’

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‘Love and Other Drugs’ a prescription for romance

3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer

Does anyone really ever love anyone the way they do in the movies, the way Rick loved Ilsa in “Casablanca” (1942)? Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jamie Randall, cynical ladies man extraordinaire in Edward Zwick’s “Love and Other Drugs,” surely doesn’t think so. Neither does Anne Hathaway’s Maggie Murdock. And then they meet.

Unless this is the first romantic dramedy you’ve ever seen, you could easily fill in most of the blanks on the letters of transit Cupid has issued these two likeable characters. But, proving what distinguishes one gushy saga from another, it’s what you didn’t fathom that throws you for an engaging loop. Good love stories define the indefinable.

It’s done by example, a whirlwind of intoxicating samples unleashed as the vicarious you and the perfect mate intersect in a cloud of carefree confusion. Just yesterday, it was only you, alone in a world of 6.7 billion. Now there are two, cutting the odds of loneliness in half. It seemed so improbable.

And as time goes by, unless you are the exception that proves the rule, you find that now and again it is totally impossible. But that’s what makes it genuine: realism clashing with idealism. Achieving just the right mixture of these elements, director Zwick has us enthusiastically buying his bill of goods. We are ennobled. Yeah for us humans.

Epitomizing the idea, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal sustain a winning credibility. Whether basking in the glow of their optimistic epiphany or reacting to the hard facts that loom once the steaminess of new love clears, the portrayals are seamless. Miss Hathaway could very possibly hand herself a statuette when she hosts the Oscars on Feb. 27.

But first, courtesy of a scene worthy of Woody Allen, we learn about Gyllenhaal’s spoiled brat of a Lothario. It’s a family at war around the dinner table. No embarrassment goes unturned, no button unpushed. Dad (George Segal) and sister are big doctors and fat little brother is a dot.com millionaire. Unexplainably, handsome Jamie is a dropout.

Perhaps it’s the same skepticism that precludes the remote possibility of true love and spurs a steady diet of sexual conquests. Set in the mid 1990s, it makes him a seriocomic Tom Jones for the X Generation. But it isn’t until his philandering ways lose him his job at an electronics store that he finds how to truly capitalize on his charisma: drugs.

Oh, it’s all fully legal and purportedly above board, mind you. Choosing to sell pharmaceuticals, Jamie is assigned to the tutelage of journeyman hawker Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), a pill pusher in the Ohio Valley since time immemorial. And therein lies the edgy, muckraking subplot that deliriously educates and abashes.

Intertwining its complementing narratives, both interspersed with alternating portions of light and dark, “Love and Other Drugs” strides a challenging course. And like real life itself, things don’t always integrate the way you’d like … without pain, fear and mystification. But then love conquers all, doesn’t it? Well, we’ll just have to see.

So here’s the rub. Established right from the get-go, Maggie has Parkinson’s disease. But as this rare manifestation of the condition is still in an early stage, Jamie isn’t prepared for what complications might lie ahead. Maggie knows better. No matter. The lovers have their defense shields up, supported by a steady banter of carefree bravado.

Quicker than you can say contemporary update of “Love Story” (1970), the script ushers in an eye-opening bevy of scandalous information about Big Pharma as its comedy relief. Jamie’s career becomes a case in point as he seeks to inveigle his way into the good graces of those docs who will hopefully prescribe his plethora of panaceas.

Hank Azaria as the swaggeringly sarcastic Dr. Stan Knight does a nice job of capsuling the conundrum today’s physicians find themselves in whilst trying to practice medicine. At a party, bemoaning the vise grip of HMOs determined not to pay and drug companies dangling bribes, he snivels of corruptness and the death of once held principles.

While prompted to wonder if our own doctor got a kickback for that last Rx we had filled, it’s a tribute to our better nature that we nonetheless sympathize with Dr. Knight, and hence, with humankind itself. Charging back into the arms of the tale’s romantic puzzle, we seek purity of purpose. Surely everything can’t be a deal.

Which may be why we invest so much hope and emotion in what my mom would have called a nice young couple. Sure, those powers that be might sully the atmosphere with snake oil promises. But we’ve a sneaking suspicion that we come equipped with our own, life defining potions, nicely compounded and dispensed in “Love and Other Drugs.”

“Love and Other Drugs,” rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Edward Zwick and stars Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal and Oliver Platt. Running time: 112 minutes.

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