Maggie (Anne Hathaway) is an alluring free spirit who won't let anything, including a formidible personal challenge, tie her down. But she meets her match in Jaime Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose relentless and nearly infallible charm serve him well with the ladies and in the cutthroat world of pharmaceutical sales. Maggie and Jamie's evolving relationship takes them both by surprise, as they find themselves under the influence of the ultimate drug: love.

Based on Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra

Romantic dramedy uneasily mixes Viagra and Parkinson’s.

Director/co-writer Ed Zwick attempts to graft a bubbly comedy about Viagra, sex and relationships onto a wrenching drama about a 26-year-old woman afflicted with Parkinson’s disease in this uneven tale set in 1996 Pittsburgh.

It doesn’t quite work, despite the valiant efforts of co-stars Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, and I’m not sure these clashing elements could ever co-exist in a single narrative.

After all, it’s a big ask of audiences to expect they’ll be laughing out loud at one moment as the characters clown around, then be moved to tears a few beats later as the woman’s physical and psychological state worsens and her world darkens.

The concept clearly didn’t grab American cinemagoers as evidenced by Love and Other Drug’s limp $US13.9 million box-office tally in its first five days during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Part of the problem lies in the two lead characters who are among the least likable and appealing we’ve seen lately in this kind of romantic dramedy. Gyllenhaal’s Jamie Randall is insufferably smug, shallow, vain, self-centred and unethical. After getting fired from his job at an electrical appliances store after bonking a co-worker in the store-room, he’s hired by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to sell anti-depressants and other drugs, mentored by Oliver Platt’s ambitious Bruce.

The plot based on the non-fiction book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, by Jamie Reidy, sees our non-hero cynically sleeping with doctors’ receptionists and removing a competitor’s drugs from their shelves and replacing them with his products.

He offers a $1,000 bribe to one GP (Hank Azaria), who readily accepts and lets him pose as an intern while he examines a patient, Hathaway’s Maggie Murdock, an artist who has Parkinson’s and is also bothered by a spot on one breast, which she shows to the doc and a leering Jamie (it turns out to be a spider’s bite). When she discovers Jamie’s a drug salesman, she biffs him and shouts, 'Eat shit and die." Nice.

Undeterred, Jamie asks her out on a date, she accepts reluctantly, then charmingly asks 'Do you want to get laid?" and the next minute they’re having noisy, boisterous sex.

In a sub-plot which provides truly cringe-making scenes involving masturbation, Jamie’s boorish, schlubby younger brother (Josh Gad) moves in with him after being kicked out by his wife, who, not unreasonably, objects to his obsession with internet porn.

The mostly light-hearted tone in the first half is intermittently funny but the mood is often manic and artificially pumped up, as if the participants were on steroids or, um, Viagra.

The aforementioned Viagra is then unleashed on the market, turning Jamie into an even cockier super-salesman, while Maggie develops a bad case of the shakes, physically and emotionally, and their relationship seems headed to the rocks.

Maggie’s visit to a convention in Chicago where real Parkinson's sufferers talk about the disease and its impact on their lives adds to the pathos but it also feels manipulative and is a million miles away from the earlier hanky-panky. The ending is all-too-predictable, orchestrated by mushy music.

It’s a brave and compelling performance by Hathaway, who’s frequently naked and who reveals a brittleness and vulnerability under Maggie’s tough outer shell and bravado. Yet while we may feel sorry for her as the debilitating disease takes hold, it’s hard to fully embrace her.

Gyllenhaal has an even more difficult task playing an antagonistic character whose outlook for most of the film is accurately summed up by Bruce when he observes, 'You hate women; why else would you screw so many of them?"


1 hour 52 min
In Cinemas 16 December 2010,
Wed, 05/04/2011 - 11