Directed by: Edward Zwick
Produced by: Scott Stuber, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph & Pieter Jan Brugge
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Josh Gad & Hank Azaria
Budget: $30 million
Box office: $102.8 million
Release Date: November 24, 2010
The old saying ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ can be applied to a lot of things. Back in my musical days (and I use the term ‘musical’ loosely) one of the main criticisms that I received was that my records featured too many different producers; therefore they featured too many different sounds and lacked a consistent tone. The other main criticisms were that I was a distinctly average rapper, an even worse singer and in the eyes of some hold the distinction of owning the worst music video in the long sad history of worst music videos. More on that some other time though…
The point is that when too many people try to weigh in on a project the whole thing can fall apart like bad tiramisu (just like my mama use-ta-make). With too many people trying to get their stuff in the finished product can end up feeling inconsistent and jumbled. Enter Love & Other Drugs.
Despite featuring a pretty impressive cast of very good actors you would be forgiven for thinking that Love & Other Drugs is just another Rom-Com and for the first 45 minutes that’s exactly what it is. The reason why I actually enjoyed it doesn’t even rear its head until around the half-way point and due to this lack of consistency and focus the film was criticised; currently holding a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Love & Other Drugs starts in a very by-the-numbers way. Gyllenhaal plays the role of Jamie; your typical late-twenties Rom-Com protagonist and he’s absolutely fine at it. Let’s face it Gyllenhaal could play the role of the couch I’m sitting on and have you at least a little bit invested. Whilst Hathaway plays Maggie; the typical female love interest and she’s actually kind of obnoxious and a little annoying at first. The plot chugs along in a formulaic manner with a distinctly unfunny scene involving Jamie having dinner with his family (who except for his brother, played by Josh Gad, you never see again) and we get introduced to the archetypical rival to Jamie; Trey who is played by Gabriel Macht and who literally disappears for about an hour of the film and does almost nothing related to plot advancement. The pace is childishly manic, the comedy is lukewarm at best and I was about one cliché away from turning it off and playing Playstation for the afternoon.
Then at the halfway mark it all changes. Before hand it had been mentioned that Maggie suffers from early onset Parkinson’s disease. Jamie finds this out whilst trying to peddle pills onto her doctor; played by Hank Azaria, another character who seemingly vanishes into the same void they through Macht into. However, it isn’t until the halfway point that the significance of this begins to rear its head. Thank-God it does as well as what comes next is a genuinely well-intentioned, sensitive and warm exploration of the very real strain that terminal illness can put on a relationship. Hathaway is like a different actress in this half now that she actually has some good material to work with. The insecurities and frailties of her character are revealed and you end up feeling a lot of sympathy towards her because of it. The same can be said of Gyllenhaal as Jamie attempts to be a rock and bravely tries to remain unaffected by these circumstances but struggles all the same. This element of drama gives the film a new dimension and a quality that it could never hope to have achieved on the path that it appeared to be on and the crazy thing is that despite this new and serious piece of ‘reality’ being added to proceedings the second half is still funnier than the first, considerably so. The reason for this is that the humour actually has some substance to it making it darker, wittier and far cleverer than how it was before.
As you’ve probably already guessed; I like the second half of Love & Other Drugs a lot more than the first. Some films tend to have certain sections that are better than others and it’s usually the other way round but I’m hard pushed to find one that just skyrockets its level of quality so sharply and so suddenly as what is seen here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where the first and second halves can be divided and defined so easily. For me though the second half is strong enough to make the film worth sticking with.
It was no surprise when I found out that Love & Other Drugs had five producers working on it and I’ll bet the fact that it had five production companies linked to it didn’t help either. It’s abundantly clear that certain parties wanted to create a standard Rom-Com that would draw based on its star-power. Whilst others wanted to create a more serious drama that still packed its sense of humour but aimed to be a bit more subtle and carry a message. The cynic and realist in me can see the logic behind the first one and the film-lover can see the reasons for the second.
Overall I enjoyed Love & Other Drugs but it took a dangerously long time to get going, dangerous enough to lose the interest of some audiences I dare-say. As said before ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ and they very nearly do here. If you can power through the first half you’ll likely love the second because it legitimately feels like you’re watching a completely different film and in the case of Love & Other Drugs that’s no bad thing!