Will Sex Scenes in "Love and Other Drugs" Pose a PR Problem for Pfizer?

Last Updated Oct 28, 2010 2:30 PM EDT

When the trailer for the new Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway movie Love and Other Drugs came out a few weeks ago, Pfizer (PFE)'s management could have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. Even though it is based on the book Hard Sell, a tell-all from Pfizer's former top Viagra salesman, the movie appeared to be a formulaic romantic comedy that ignored author Jamie Riedy's account of the sleazy side of drug sales industry. It also carried an R-rating, which tends to reduce audiences because kids can't see it. PR disaster averted!

But now the reviews and screeners are out and Love and Other Drugs might induce a headache (one of Viagra's side effects) at Big Blue after all: That R rating is because Gyllenhaal and Hathaway spend much of the movie naked in a set of extended sex scenes, according to the early reviews. This has nothing to do with Pfizer, of course, but those scenes sandwich the parts in which director Ed Zwick takes what The Hollywood Reporter calls "a deep plunge into unfamiliar territory" -- the pharmaceutical business:

At its core, "Love and Other Drugs" has solid romance credentials and two very photogenic leads in the (at times) scarcely clothed Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. ... an interesting case of sexual combustion ... both use casual sex as an escape from the utter shallowness and insincerity of their lives. ... the two get to enjoy better and better recreational sex ... Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are terrific as two sarcastic, sexually hungry young people eager to hop into bed, or go up against the nearest wall for a knee-trembler.
Oh my. The movie already has it's own "Mr Skin" entry, "Love and Other Drugs Has Anne Hathaway's Jugs!" (NSFW, duh). In fact, the early marketing of the movie revolves almost entirely around the fact that the two stars take their clothes off a lot. The movie's poster shows them both au naturel, and the publicity Q&A's that the actors and the director are doing mention it repeatedly. Examples: MTV News, The New York Daily News, IndieWire, Hollwood Elsewhere and The Daily Northwestern, which asked the obvious question:
Is there a reason for so much nudity?
Buzz, obviously, and it is working: Non-drug blogs are already expressing interest in the film's pharmaceutical backdrop:
I can take a pass on the romance and the nudity but I must admit to being lured in by the drug company thing. I've been waiting for someone to get really mad about the endless stream of drug ads on the airwaves that no one is doing anything about.
The film is getting mixed early reviews. People like seeing the pair get it on but the actual plot is limp, critics say. That might explain why the nakedness has become such a big part of its marketing. The question for Pfizer is, will the public's desire to see Gyllenhaal and Hathaway in bed expose the company's dark side to a larger audience than might previously have been interested?

One thing's for sure: Everyone at Pfizer is going to buy a ticket. "Love and Other Drugs" opens Thanksgiving weekend.