In advance of its much-buzzed release, the Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams film Blue Valentine—which has yet to secure a Portland opening—was slapped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, a death sentence at the box office for a film gaining acclaim for its stark portrait of an unraveling marriage, complete with coercive cunnilingus. Williams’ Brokeback Mountain co-stars Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal probably didn’t have any trouble nabbing an R rating for their new romantic dramedy, Love & Other Drugs, despite the fact the pair start their onscreen romance with a little rough, doggy-style fuck in a public restroom, and generally thrust and undulate their way through the film. There’s even a wacky sidekick who likes to jerk off to the sex tapes the pair makes.
So in an era when sex is everywhere, how does a film about serious issues get blacklisted while a popcorn flick about fuck buddies getting mooshy feelings for one another is deemed a breezy romp? Is it because Hathaway and Gyllenhaal actually seem to be enjoying their carnal knowledge? Possibly, but my guess is it’s because Love & Other Drugs is a cookie-cutter romcom that humps every cliché in the book with the same reckless abandon Gyllenhaal mounts Hathaway behind a dumpster: It’s cheap, it’s emotionless, and it uses explicit sex and comedy to disguise what is essentially a chick flick wrapped in a Trojan, ribbed with bare flesh (for his pleasure) and ready to be tossed in the trash.
It’s no surprise Love & Other Drugs was perpetrated by Edward Zwick, an inexplicably acclaimed director who has spent decades taking tired ideas and repackaging them as prestige pictures (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond). Here, Zwick re-imagines the skeezy but charming tobacco lobbyist of Thank You for Smoking as a pharmaceutical salesman (Gyllenhaal) whose unique ability to insert his unit in almost any woman makes him the perfect guy to peddle Pfizer’s miracle drug, Viagra. He meets his match in the form of Hathaway’s artistic eccentric, who spends her spare time bussing senior citizens to the Canadian border for affordable prescriptions. Hathaway embodies what AV Club critic Nathan Rabin accurately dubbed the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: She’s smart, zany, artistic, listens to indie rock and manages to turn Gyllenhaal’s egocentric Lothario into a respectable man. And she loves to casually fuck—which is compromised when Gyllenhaal wants to do weird things like have dinner together and talk after sex.
Oh, and she has early onset Parkinson’s Disease, a plot point exploited endlessly throughout the film as Gyllenhaal ditches boner pills in an effort—seriously—to find a cure. “I had places I wanted to go,” says Hathaway, following Gyllenhaal’s standard-issue manic freeway jaunt to stop her from leaving town. “I’ll carry you,” he replies to his trembling damsel in distress. That’s some stinky cheese, but the actors give it their best. Gyllenhaal has always had a natural, gee-whiz charm, and here it’s well applied, particularly in early scenes of him partying and playing conquistador in the beds of Midwestern women. Hathaway does her best Julia Roberts impression, but when the disease starts to set in she goes overboard in her fits of anger and acceptance, moments that manage to be more laughable than the comedy that peppers this glib film.
Both seem to think showing ample flesh will help elevate their performances—and the movie—into something beyond what Love & Other Drugs is: a generic romcom. It’s a film that exudes sleaziness, and not because of its themes of casual sex and hedonism. Were it content to be a hornball version of a Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan flick, it would be just fine. That it sees fit to exploit its heroine’s affliction is irritating enough. It’s the utter ordinariness of the whole affair that makes it go completely flaccid.