Sunday, September 18, 2011

Love and Other Drugs (2010) ***½

Perhaps you heard some of the buzz about this movie having a lot of nudity? Well, believe the hype. “Love and Other Drugs” delivers on the soft-porn front. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway look great without their clothes, and the movie is not stingy with the sex scenes. What is pleasantly surprising is that it is actually a good movie when everyone has their clothes on, too.

Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, a handsome guy with a talent for selling things and for getting ladies to like him. He stumbles from retail sales into the murky world of pharmaceutical promotion, “The only entry-level job where you can make over $100K a year.” That’s no joke. Drug reps can make a ton of money if they can manage to do one thing: Get doctors to prescribe their medication. By any means necessary.

In a doctor’s office, Jamie meets Maggie (Hathaway), a young woman with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and they crash into each other sexually like a couple of freight trains. They both commit to keeping things purely physical, but of course they aren’t able to keep that promise, and we get treated to a very sweet, well-played love story.

Meanwhile, Jamie learns how to navigate the shark-infested waters of drug promotion, but his career really explodes when he goes from selling antidepressants to marketing Viagra. Suddenly, doctors who used to avoid or ignore him start seeking him out. Everyone wants free Viagra samples, and Jamie leverages that new power to get doctors to prescribe his other meds as well.

I wish I could say that all the sleazy drug-rep shenanigans are exaggerated, but it is really spot-on. The scene where Jamie steals another rep's samples off a doctor’s shelf? That has happened. The scene where Jamie interjects, right there in a doctor’s office, to tell a patient that his drug might work better than the one the doctor is prescribing? It’s happened. The lunches and snacks, the free trips, the “preceptorship” where a doctor is paid to allow a rep to hang out with him all day? All true. The film does a good job presenting the variety of physician responses to all the marketing. Some of them completely shun the reps; some are partly open, especially if the rep has something he wants (like Viagra samples); and some, like Dr. Knight (Hank Azaria), allow themselves to get really chummy with the reps. Even Dr. Knight is presented with complexity. He discusses the frustration of having to see so many patients each day that he can’t take the time to do good medicine. Much of his time gets sucked up fighting insurance companies, both for his own pay and for coverage of his patients’ meds and testing. He seems like a decent doctor who has burned out fighting a broken system.

It’s a shame, really, that this movie became known mainly for the nakedness, because there is some good philosophical material here. There are plenty of movies about dealing with your lover developing a fatal disease, but in “Love and Other Drugs” the girl already has the disease. The question is, “Can a selfish guy like Jamie love and commit to someone whose ten to twenty year outlook is so bleak, and even if he can, should he? Is a young man being fair to himself by selecting a mate whom he will probably be lifting on and off the toilet in the not-so-distant future?” The second big question of the film regards Jamie’s pharmaceutical job. Can he continue to do this job in good conscience? Here the film stumbles a bit by failing to present the entire picture. They show the dark side of drug-repping, but they fail to depict the fact that most drug reps do not consider themselves sleazy salesmen. They believe that they are serving an educational function. The film shows companies hiring former cheerleaders and beauty queens, and that is real, but most of the reps I have known have some sort of science background. That doesn’t mean that the information they share with doctors is balanced or objective, but I think that on some level the reps believe that it is. Jamie doesn’t seem to have any such delusions.

With excellent acting, an engrossing love story, and two great-looking people getting naked, “Love and Other Drugs” is well worth seeing. Watch it with a date, not with your parents.

3.5 stars

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cyrus (2010) **1/2

Several years ago I saw a movie at the Sundance Film Festival called “The Puffy Chair,” by rookie filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass. The movie was a rough-around-the-edges romantic dramedy, and not a bad little independent film. The Duplass brothers showed promise. “Cyrus” is the first thing I’ve seen from them since, and it looks like now that they have access to a bigger budget and top-notch actors, they still want to make rough-around-the-edges, independent, romantic dramedies.

The best thing about “Cyrus” is the cast, which is just bursting with talent. John C. Reilly plays John, a heartbroken guy who still isn’t over his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) after seven years. His life starts looking up when a hottie named Molly (Marissa Tomei) takes a liking to him, but things get complicated when he meets her clinging, passive-aggressive, grown son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). From then on it’s just one annoying act after another on Cyrus’s part as he tries to split John and Molly up so he can have his mom for himself.

Yep this is one of those comedies of frustration, where we are supposed to laugh uproariously at the cringe-inducing acts of some inappropriate character. “Cyrus” is not nearly as broad as, say, “What About Bob?”, which is to it’s credit. The problem is that by making the characters and situations more real, they make it that much more difficult to find humor in the situation. The film does make the point that Molly is just as much a part of this co-dependent, dysfunctional mother-son relationship as Cyrus. That makes it harder to sympathize with Molly. I was rooting for John to just cut his losses and go find himself a saner woman.

I seriously considered ending “Cyrus” early, but the strength of the acting kept me watching, and I suppose I’m glad I did. Molly and Cyrus do sort of redeem themselves by the end, and I find that I like the movie better looking back on it than while watching it. I think the movie was mis-marketed, with the trailer seeming to suggest a raucous, “Meet the Parents”-style comedy, which this definitely is not. The Duplass brothers have a knack for working with genuine, complex human emotion, but I won’t become a real fan until they figure out how to have more fun with it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Crazy, Stupid Love (2011) **

There’s something about Steve Carell that inspires confidence. Even though he plays the same schlubby nice-guy in almost every movie, he does it with such decency and adultness that it’s hard for me to think he would ever be in a bad movie. Combined with some good reviews I read, Carell’s presence led me into “Crazy, Stupid Love” with unrealistically high expectations. I think I was expecting something along the lines of “Punch Drunk Love” or maybe “Magnolia,” but what I got was a very typical Hollywood love story that starts out somewhat promisingly, but devolves into trite clichés. Carell plays Cal, a schlubby nice-guy whose wife Emily (Julianne Moore) announces over dinner that instead of dessert, she wants a divorce. Heartbroken Cal takes to hanging out at one of those bars with expensive drinks, where guys in nice suits pick up hot women, but he doesn’t fit in at all in his khakis and sneakers. Night after night he wallows in self-pity and girly cocktails, telling the bartenders and anyone else who will listen his sad story. Finally, Jacob (Ryan Gosling), a sharp-dressed ladies’ man, takes pity on Cal and offers to help him clean up his act. What follows is your typical makeover segment, where Cal gets new clothes, new hair, and a new attitude, followed by chicks. Meanwhile, the film sets up a goofy love hexagon, where Cal’s son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is in love with his babysitter, who is in love with Cal. Cal, despite his newfound success with multiple women, really wants his wife back. While she has some similar feelings, the guy she cheated on Cal with (Kevin Bacon) is pushing to become the new man in her life. While Cal sorts through all the madcap misunderstandings inherent in this type of movie, superstud Jacob meets his own form of romantic Kryptonite in the green-eyed form of Emma Stone. With such a great cast, I think I was justified in expecting more from “Crazy, Stupid Love,” and in fairness the first third of the film is fairly entertaining. Unfortunately, the excellent performances become strained as the increasingly contrived plot leads us from one cliché to the next. The best line in the film comes when Cal’s hopes of a reconciliation with Emily have just been derailed by one of those Hollywood Misunderstandings. As he watches her drive away, heartbroken, it starts to rain on him, and Cal cries out “What a cliché!” Unfortunately, the movie never manages to transcend those clichés. 2 stars out of 5