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

No comments: