Andy Bockelman: ‘Love and Other Drugs’ is good medicine

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

Life got you down? Is the daily grind too much to take?

What if I told you I had a pill that could solve every single one of your problems?

Well, then I’d be lying, but that’s why movies like “Love and Other Drugs” were created, to take your mind off your troubles.

Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is good at two things: selling merchandise and bedding women. And, in his new job, one plays into the other constantly.

As a sales representative for Pfizer, Jamie’s persistence with clients and flirtatious nature with the opposite sex leads to a promising career. As he becomes a regular around doctors’ offices hocking Zoloft, he also becomes acquainted with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a young woman with early onset Parkinson’s disease and a lengthy list of prescriptions.

Though their relationship gets off to a rocky start, they quickly develop a romance based purely on the physical part of love.

Maggie’s insistence that neither of them commit to each other sounds great to Jamie, who’s always avoided having a serious girlfriend like the plague.

Life starts to get even better, as Pfizer releases a new drug called Viagra that doctors can’t keep in stock thanks to Jamie’s sales techniques. But, as the money pours in, Jamie feels the need to have somebody to share his life with, though convincing Maggie to take their relationship to the next level could take even more persuasion than even he can manage.

Gyllenhaal’s charisma allows him to glide through his role as easily as Jamie goes through girls before meeting the love of his life. And better yet, the actor doesn’t balk when it comes to the serious stuff, namely trying to work at having a girlfriend who’s suffering from a very serious malady.

Hathaway is heartwarming as Maggie, a waitress and would-be artist whose Parkinson’s provides constant frustration that she’s not prepared to burden anybody with, preferring eating take-out after lovemaking to an actual date.

Josh Gad is worthy of chuckles as Jamie’s obnoxious younger brother, Josh, a software millionaire whose prominence in the business world has never amounted to much with the ladies.

It’s always much easier to just leach off the more attractive, as evidenced by Jamie reluctantly taking his sibling as a wingman, as well as his world-weary sales partner (Oliver Platt) and their main client (Hank Azaria). However, he has his work cut out for him competing against a Prozac salesman (Gabriel Macht) who also works the area and happens to be Maggie’s former flame.

All’s fair in love and pharmaceutical sales, right?

The topicality of Jamie Reidy’s memoir of his experiences in the 1990s, “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” takes a second tier to crafting a romantic comedy. Yet, even though it lacks the razor wit of business-themed films such as “Thank You for Smoking” or last year’s “Up in the Air,” there’s something about this story that cures what ails you.

Perhaps it’s having a director like Edward Zwick, who makes a total 180 from his usual milieu, having been the mind behind war films like “Glory,” “The Last Samurai,” “Blood Diamond” and “Defiance.” Handling much lighter material, Zwick, who also co-wrote the screenplay, manages to keep a sense of humor ready while still going for the kill during the maudlin moments.

To be fair, Hathaway is the one who owns every moment as a complicated woman in every sense of the word, with Maggie proving her quirkiness — wearing a Cub Scout uniform as a regular outfit — compassion — arranging field trips to Canada for seniors who need cheap medications — throughout the movie. Her spontaneity also warrants no complaints.

Hmm, what could be under that trenchcoat?

“Love and Other Drugs” could have been a typical romance — boy loves money, boy meets free spirit, boy suddenly cares about someone besides himself. But, even with a story that hardly strays from conventions, it remains a touching and funny feature, mostly thanks to a pair of leads who know what they’re doing.

And no, that isn’t just a placebo effect.

Andy Bockelman can be reached at 875-1795 or at abockelman@craigdailypress.com.

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