Sex Sells: Social Satire Comes Up Wanting

City Pulse | November 22, 2010
Sex Sells

Social Satire Comes Up Wanting

Love & Other Drugs (Two Stars) (732 words)

By Cole Smithey

Drawn from the same murky well of Hollywood ethical ambiguity that gave us "Thank You for Smoking" and last year's "Up In the Air," "Love & Other Drugs" audaciously defines its slick anti-hero protagonist as beyond reproach. Jake Gyllenhaal's Jamie Randall is a sex-addicted stud whose effortless ability to bed women anytime/anywhere gets him fired from a peppy job selling electronics equipment to women of all ages during a bustling 1996 economy. Jamie's seduction skills are given greater consequence at his new position hawking drugs for Pfizer. Partnered with old-hand Big-Pharma peddler Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), Jamie utilizes his mythologized appendage to help better place samples of Zoloft on the backroom shelves of doctors all over Pittsburg. Sleeping with doctor office receptionists has fiscal benefits. He has no ethical qualms about posing as a medical intern to "shadow" Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), an especially hard-sell who shares a similar free spinning moral compass. It's a line-crossing stunt that introduces Jamie to Parkinson's disease-suffering patient Maggie Murdoch (Anne Hathaway) via her exposed spider-bitten breast. Jamie and Maggie are commitment-phobes whose combustible sex life together is articulated to preclude any actual devotion of the heart.

Based on Jamie Reidy's memoir "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman," the by-committee script--from Charles Randolph, Marshall Herskovitz and co-writer/director Edward Zwick--bounces between comedic, dramatic, and indie genre conventions like a magnetized pinball. The grab-bag satire is so riddled with out of place irony that its artificial characters achieve an "uncanny valley" effect characteristic of robots who too closely exhibit human characteristics. The filmmakers are clearly banking on the allure of nude sex scenes between Gyllenhaal and Hathaway to attract audiences. While some blue-haired ladies might imagine the film's eroticism to possess some radical sensual style of integrity, there is nothing here that scratches at the intimate degree of pornographic expression in "Blue Valentine," which stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Jamie is a card-carrying stud to Maggie's status as a would-be-suicidal free spirit, i.e. slut-for-a-medical-reason. We get an early point-of-information alert about Big Pharma's third place on the Fortune 500 List as being worth all of the remaining 497 put together. These are shark infested waters. Jamie starts living the high life selling Viagra from the start of its popular launch. Unfortunately, Maggie's condition demands that Jamie take her on an active search for proper medical treatment.

"Love & Other Drugs" wants to lampoon a corporate milieu of medical industry corruption that promotes and sustains America's ongoing health care crisis. But it does it all wrong. Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway look too perfect naked together to be anything other than art. We accept the light-hearted entertainment like drinking a spiked cocktail. So what if Gyllenhaal's character is a reprehensible cad, he looks great and just so happy with that health-challenged Venus of a lass.

An example of where it will but it won't comes when Maggie attacks Jamie in the hospital parking lot after pegging him as an opportunistic drug sales rep rather than the intern he pretended to be during her physical examination. She pulls out a Polaroid camera and takes his photo as if prepared to litigate against him for his illicit activity with Dr. Knight. But nothing comes of the dangled plot-thread. So it is that the movie is laden with such absurdities that work against the eventual love story that the movie shakes out to be.

The film's worst transgression is the inclusion of a nerdy-but-filthy-rich younger brother for Jamie in the guise of a completely inappropriate Josh Gad. A masturbation gag involving a personal amateur sex video drops like a sack of sand on the film's lumpy tone. It's sickening to see such layers of irredeemable gloss shellacked over a story that should infuriate its audience.

With Pfizer coincidently in the headlines for corruption involving doctors paid enormous paychecks to lecture on specific drugs, "Love & Other Drugs" may have an unintended consequence of prompting a forum for people to discuss a medical system hamstrung by pharmaceutical companies. More likely however, it will do its ostensible purpose of acclimating citizens to the idea that we should like, respect, and lust after corrupt people, or at least embrace them for being people--yes even horny--people too.

Rated R. 113 min. (C-)

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