The studio bills Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway’s “Love & Other Drugs” as an unconventional love story.
Maybe a bit, in its unusual setting – the world of prescription drug sales – and its attempt to inject drama by arbitrarily giving an incurable disease to one of its romantic leads.
Yet despite its dramatic pretenses (and far racier sex scenes than the typical studio romance), it’s as predictable and ultimately as sappy as any other run-of-the-mill Hollywood love story.
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, who co-starred as a couple in a sinking marriage in “Brokeback Mountain,” look and feel right in each other’s arms, sharing a relaxed bond.
But the screenplay, co-written by director Edward Zwick and producers Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, shoves the two together awkwardly – and keeps them coming back together even more awkwardly – undermining the easy, genuine sense of affection and passion the stars manage.
Awkwardness seems to have been there from the start in creating a screen adaptation of Jamie Reidy’s book “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” which was not a romance at all.
Gyllenhaal’s Jamie Randall is a suitable stand-in for Reidy’s slick, aggressive master salesman of pharmaceuticals in the late 1990s, when Viagra first came on the market.
Hathaway’s Maggie Murdock is a complete fabrication, however, dreamed up so the filmmakers could have a love interest.
She’s often sharply written and always shrewdly performed by Hathaway. Her appearance feels like a forced entry into the story, though, as newbie salesman Jamie meets her at a doctor’s office, where she’s come to get fresh prescriptions for all the drugs she needs to fight early onset Parkinson’s disease.
Jamie’s a ladies man whose love life prospers on the road. Maggie’s similarly interested in casual sex at most, partly because of her illness, partly because of sour past relationships.
Both seem fine parting after a one-night stand. And then, somehow, they’re in a relationship, quickly and clunkily crafted by the filmmakers so they can proceed to stage two, the bumpy road to love when disease is involved.
Along the way, we get entertaining side glimpses into the cutthroat world of pharmaceuticals as Jamie partners up with a veteran salesman (Oliver Platt) and tries to woo a key doctor (Hank Azaria) in his territory to prescribe his company’s drugs over a competitor’s.
A little less of the predictable love and more attention to these other drugs might have given the movie a rosier glow.