"There is no right or wrong. It's just the moment." Such is the attitude often used to justify lustful desires, leaving a trail of broken and bitter human beings in its wake. Director and co-writer Edward Zwick displays that attitude in all its dissolute glory with his latest film. Like countless better-made romantic dramas, Love and Other Drugs champions the virtues of true love, but Zwick has so much fun indulging lustful vices that he diminishes its significance.
Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), the underachieving son of a prosperous couple, has just one marketable skill: the ability to seduce and exploit women. After several weeks of intensive training at Pfizer (and bedding his trainer), Jamie lands a position selling the anti-depressant Zoloft in the Ohio River Valley region.
Tasked with convincing the region's most influential doctor, Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), to start prescribing Zoloft instead of Prozac, Jamie sleeps his way into the good graces of the doctor's secretary, gaining access to the doctor's supply shelves, where he replaces the shelves of Prozac with his Zoloft samples. He eventually bribes Dr. Knight into letting him follow him on rounds, ostensibly to learn more about how his office works.
In the course of his efforts, Jamie meets one of the doctor's patients, Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a worldly and cynical young woman suffering from the early stages of Parkinson's disease. Carrying scars from a previous relationship, Maggie wants what Jamie wants: no-strings-attached sex.
The film earns every bit of its R rating depicting the couple's sexual escapades and the foul language surrounding them. (Hathaway remarked that she felt uncomfortable getting naked in front of the camera. Well, so will many of her Princess Diaries fans who make the mistake of seeing this film.)
Pfizer eventually awards Jamie a new drug to sell that better matches his skill set, Viagra. While Jamie's career takes off, his relationship with Maggie gets a bit more complicated.
Gyllenhall and Hathaway deliver solid performances in their respective roles, but the lustful, vulgar, comedically decadent tone of the film undermines their characters' emotional growth. Despite the director's obvious efforts to contrast signs of true love with the selfish actions of characters living in the "moment," the end result lacks the emotional depth and resonance of a romantic drama that does not deal so cavalierly with sex.
Love may be healthier than Bacchanalian escapades, but Zwick likens it to the not-so-tasty medicine one takes after overdosing on sweets, medicine one could just as easily toss in the dumpster to make room for the next round of Zoloft.
-Michael Leaser is editor of FilmGrace and an associate of The Clapham Group