NEW YORK (CBS) Director Ed Zwick's satirical look at the explosive commercialization of the pharmaceutical industry provides a welcome change of pace and a healthy dose of wry humor.
Loosely based on Jamie Reidy's lighthearted memoir, "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman," "Love & Other Drugs" qualifies as an unconventional, non-glossy love story from the director that is best known for helming such epic period dramas as "The Last Samurai", "Blood Diamond" and his feature directorial debut "About Last Night" - a critical and box office hit.
There are similarities between the latter and his latest venture for 20th Century Fox - both films present a realistic look at love, and both begin one way and evolve into something completely unanticipated. Zwick is also credited with co-writing the screenplay, together with Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, who all also served as producers.
The film is set in the mid-'90s, when the drug industry began its explosion with the advent of drugs like Zoloft, Prozac and the ubiquitous "little blue pill" Viagra, and pairs Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway for a second time after "Brokeback Mountain."
Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a quick-talking salesman, who's interested in getting to the top of his game - earning a coveted Pfizer posting in Chicago. He has no qualms about bringing out his inner "jerk" in order to get to the top, including sleeping with the receptionist for the physician he is trying to rep. A real charmer and loner, he doesn't want to come within a mile of being in a committed relationship.
Into the picture comes Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a free-spirited, beautiful and talented artist, who exhibits sexual inclinations that might verge on nymphomania. The two begin a casual relationship based purely on carnal delight. In fact, I think I may still be blushing from the amount of up close and personal intimate scenes between the two characters, who told me in a recent interview that they were completely uninhibited about shedding their clothes and writhing around naked for a good part of the film. Easy to do when you look as great as this couple does.
Their relationship takes a turn and the plot takes a major twist when the two happily uncommitted, independents realize that despite trying their best to avoid it, the two are falling for one another. We also learn that Maggie is suffering from progressively worsening Parkinson's Disease.
Both Hathaway and Gyllenhaal turn in top-notch performances. Their obvious chemistry explodes on the big screen. There is a natural ease and connectivity between the two that comes across and both extend themselves, taking unexpected risks that pay off magnificently. They bring to life fresh, richly layered characters that grow and evolve together, as they try to navigate their complicated relationship and all of the love, sex, lust and angst that goes along with it.
Hathaway, in particular, is notable for her intimate, nuanced portrayal of a young woman coming to terms with the reality of a disease she will carry with her for the rest of her life. Gyllenhaal manages to walk both sides of the line - beginning the film, uncharacteristically, as a cavalier cad, before transitioning into the man who goes all out to try and find a cure for the woman he loves, before coming to terms with the reality of their future together.
The flawed, constant fluidity of their relationship is what makes this love story so different from any other. Zwick is intent on showing that love is not a continual high, but has its ebbs and flows. He strives - and succeeds - in keeping things real in this extremely modern look at love that will keep you laughing and crying all at the same time in an unexpectedly winning film.
Run time: 113 minutes
Rated: R (strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some drug use)