Love & Other Drugs (2010)

(Netflix Streaming, April 2015) Consider me pleasantly surprised: I wasn’t expecting much from this romantic comedy, but Love & Other Drugs has more than enough bright moments to earn a marginal recommendation despite an unsatisfying conclusion.  The two best things about the film, obviously, are the performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, both of whom manage to elevate potentially reprehensible characters into likable romantic leads.  The third best asset of the film is the first half of co-writer/director Edward Zwick’s script, which manages to deliver a witty introduction to the world of pharmaceutical product selling, along with a mature love story that seemingly holds little back.  Yes, this means plenty of nudity.  But more importantly, it also means two protagonists who delight in making their coupling as difficult as can be, negging each other relentlessly and desperately clinging to an unrealistic ideal of non-attachment.  The dialogue is biting, the love scenes have a bit of heat to them, Hathaway looks spectacular (on-par for Hollywood’s idea of terminally-ill young women) and Gyllenhaal plays up his motor-mouth hustler character in a way that’s actually charming rather than infuriating.  But Love & Other Drugs goes awry somewhere past its midpoint, as it struggles with the realization that it has introduced a romance with no possible satisfactory conclusion.  From sharp-tongued comedy, it becomes both a weepy drama about an incurable disease then a routine romantic film with an expected ending.  The credits roll on happy characters, but we viewers suspect a much darker aftermath.  The last-act blend of romantic idealism clashes with the grim advice received by the protagonists and the cynical spirit of its initial scenes.  As much as I enjoyed the first half of the film, it does set up expectations that are impossible to fulfill.  There may have been a better film lurking in the basic premise, one with a more biting denunciation of Big Pharma and fewer emotional dead-ends.  In the meantime, you can always be riveted by the first half of the film, and let your attention wander during the rest. 

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