Part sex romp, part industry exposé, part sickness weepie, part young-love story, Love and Other Drugs aims to contain multitudes, but rather than synthesizing these genres into something multifaceted but coherent, it instead flits awkwardly from one style to the next in a manner that feels desperately market-tested and ultimately unsatisfying.
The film, anonymously directed by veteran Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), is a heavily fictionalized adaptation of former Pfizer sales rep Jamie Reidy's 2005 memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.
Here, Jake Gyllenhaal is Jamie Randall, the handsome, charismatic, but directionless scion of a successful family — dad and sister are physicians, his younger brother has become a multimillionaire after his medical software company has gone public — who is biding his time selling stereo equipment and sweet-talking women into bed, much to parental disapproval.
Seeking some kind of career direction, Jamie uses his brother's industry connections to get into the sales-rep training program for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — according to the film, the only entry-level job in the country that pays over $100,000.
An early montage take on Jamie's Pfizer training and his subsequent introduction to the unscrupulous byways of the profession by grizzled partner Bruce (Oliver Platt) suggests a fruitful direction, but instead the film takes a hard left after Jamie's rather skeevy "meet-cute" with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a loner artist and barista (and also, apparently, a screenwriter invention) who suffers from early-onset Parkinson's.
The formulaic love story that comes from this apparent mismatch seems designed to make the film's industry critique more palatable for multiplex audiences, but instead it subsumes it into a conventional romance broken up by the strategic deployment of the broad gross-out humor that all Hollywood films about or for young people now consider a requirement.
There's an interesting procedural film to be made about the workings of Big Pharma and the relationships between drug reps and physicians. But Love and Other Drugs isn't interested in that. Instead, the industry exposé speeds by — often in dialogue sputtered out as if Zwick were in a hurry to get to the next sex scene — and gets lost.
The revelations this film is most interested in concern not shady drug-industry practices but Gyllenhaal's rear and Hathaway's bosom, both of which are on surprisingly ample display.
Ultimately, Love and Other Drugs aims to be something like Up in the Air for twentysomethings. But despite boasting many times more bare skin, it has a fraction of the sex appeal. Hathaway — a terrific actress even in work that's not worthy of her (see the dreadful Valentine's Day) — is up to the challenge, clothes on or off, but Gyllenhaal struggles to get past — or, more importantly, beneath — his character's slick surfaces. By the end, after all the contortions and cowardice, Love and Other Drugs left me bored and annoyed at the opportunities wasted.