Glory to The Last Samurai to Blood Diamond, director Edward Zwick is know for his big spectacle 'message' movies. However his first film was the David Mamet-adapted romantic comedy About Last Night. Zwick returns to his rom-com roots with Love & Other Drugs, a 90's era love story set against the world of the booming pharmaceutical drug industry. It opened this year's AFI Film Festival at the historic Grauman's Chinese, kicking off a great week of free films and panels.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as womanizing drug rep Jamie Randall who falls for Anne Hathaway's Maggie Murdock, an artsy 'no strings attatched' girl with stage one parkinson's disease. They both agree to keep things casual but of course they fall in love. Jamie's career with drug giant Pfizer takes off with the introduction of Viagra (it was based on real-life Pfizer salesman Jamie Reidy's memoir Hard Sell) and the film shows a fast moving funny look at the legal drug selling culture. As the romance blooms, Maggie pushes him away for fear of her disease coming between them. The film's ads are certainly shying away from the parkinson's but it's this aspect of the story where the film shines. Hathaway's performance here is fantastic. Her seemingly confident but internally crumbling Maggie is subtle and heartbreaking. There is powerful scene where she goes to a support group and hears stories from actual (non-actors) people with parkinson's. She finally realizes she is not alone and Jamie realizes the weight of the disease when a long-time husband of a stage five wife advises him to just find a 'healthy woman'. Gyllenhaal also continues his string of terrific performances (we'll forgive Prince of Persia) as the cocky fast-talker who realizes he does want true love. He grounds the character with a soulful realism that makes you root for him.
Personal favorites Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria also impress in supporting roles. The music choices, courtesy of master music supervisor Randall Poster (he does all Wes Anderson's films), are fun managing to make you nostalgic for the 90's. So would you sacrifice everything to take care of someone you love? Even if their state of mind is taking away what you loved about them in the first place. These are the big questions the film asks, albeit in a very formulaic studio-slick way. Ultimately the movie doesn't escape its Cameron Crowe cliches but worth watching for its moving performances. Opens November 24th.