Last night I sat in a Fox screening room packed with critics to see Edward Zwick's Love & Other Drugs. Writer-director Zwick has done what I have long wanted him to do--get into the James L. Brooks/Nancy Meyers smart comedy mode--as he did with partner Marshall Herskovitz (who adapted Jamie Reidy's book Hard Sell with Zwick and Charles Randolph) for so many great TV series, from 30 Something to Relativity. While previous Zwick efforts such as Defiance, Blood Diamond and The Last Samurai have tended toward high-minded commercial dramas packed with action, Love & Other Drugs is a Jake Gyllenhaal-Anne Hathaway romantic comedy with dramatic overtones--and plenty of artfully constructed sex and nudity.
The movie is very commercial and should please young audiences more than critics, which would seem essential to any serious Oscar hopeful (see early trade reviews below). Fox is harboring award season hopes. Early buzz has surrounded Hathaway's performance as a Parkinson's patient in love with Viagra-pushing Pharma salesman and ardent womanizer Gyllenhaal. I'd give him even more credit for what works in this enjoyably shallow movie: lively banter, fearless intimacy, charm, comedic timing and heartfelt sincerity.
The film opens wide on November 24 after its November 4 premiere at AFI Fest 2010.
The movie "plays at times like a patient who has gone off his meds," writes THR's Kirk Honeycutt. Ripe with "unusually bold sex scenes," and with "ADD like you wouldn't believe," the film eventually becomes a "shockingly conventional" romance:
"Zwick's movie never descends into a disease-of-the-week melodrama, but Jamie's search for a cure is more about his fear of the future for himself, not his lover…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…In the end, this is a smart movie that could have been smarter…the energy of the cast and a dive into an unfamiliar world make the movie rather addictive."
Variety's Justin Chang writes that the film is "snappy, saucy and, like any overzealous product-pusher, rather too eager to please" and "a jagged little pill that, in the end, goes down too smoothly":
"If one can get past the calculation inherent in the drug-pushing-boy-meets-disease-stricken-girl setup, Love & Other Drugs clicks largely because its actors do. Their ribald pillow talk lends the film a verbal tartness that's complemented visually by the abundant nudity…Zwick's unflattering snapshot of the venality of the medical establishment is fascinating, if fanciful (one hopes). But it also raises expectations of seriousness, or at least deeper satirical intent, that fizzle out as the film earnestly toes the romantic-comedy line.
That the film's treatment of Parkinson's disease feels as respectful as it does is a credit to Hathaway's sensitive, understated rendering of her character's symptoms, which appear to manifest themselves only when most convenient for the narrative. Crucially, the actress makes Maggie a vivacious presence, the sheer force of her spirit serving as a rebuke to her physical setbacks and countering the film's generally insulting view of women (who fall into three basic categories here: bimbos, opportunists and Parkinson's patients)."
Todd McCarthy (in hislast review for indieWIRE before moving on to THR) writes:
After hiding them for years while turning out more grandiose historical and action films, director Ed Zwick’s television roots show up vividly in “Love & Other Drugs,” an enormously contrived and cloying romantic drama without a moment of believable reality to it. The appealing stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway try hard, real hard, to inject some credibility into the sexually charged relationship between a hotshot drug salesman and a heavily guarded young woman with early stage Parkinson’s disease, and the fact that they appear naked in many scenes will pique curiosity among some. But Zwick’s shtick keeps getting in the way, to the point that the film feels as much like a strained sitcom as it does a failed poignant love story.
[Sophia Savage contributed to this report.]