Love and Other Drugs is a fairly predictable romantic comedy. If you’ve seen the trailer, you probably know how the film will end. That being said, it’s also a tremendously likeable film with a tremendously likeable cast, and it has a couple things that distinguish it from your normal romantic-comedy fare.
1. The characters like having sex with one another. In mainstream Hollywood movies, sex is usually either played for laughs or treated as the most important moment in these people’s lives up to this point or possibly ever. But in Love and Other Drugs, Jamie and Maggie have sex the way that normal people have sex: enthusiastically, awkwardly, ccasionally with great embarassement, and with a firm grasp on their sense of humor. They don’t fall in love by exchanging longing looks or chatting with one another online. They fall in love in bed, in between vigorous bouts of bonking.
2. The film is set at a definite time and place, and that setting is important to the plot. Many films, especially romantic comedies, take place in what I think of as the “indeterminate now” – a featureless, vaguely modern time period of little to no color or detail. This is almost always a lost opportunity. In real life, people don’t wander around scrupulouly avoiding references to current events or pop culture. To the contrary, they often derive much of their conversational material to the thing they just watched or the new invention they just read about or what just happened in international news.
Love and Other Drugs is set in the late-nineties. The characters have pagers. They dress like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. They go online occasionally, but not often. The release of Viagra, and the subsequent media hullaballoo, are important subplots. These details aren’t a waste of time; they help to establish these people, and their relationships, in a world that seems real and fully fleshed-out.
Love… is also thankfully not set in New York City. I love New York. It was my home for five years and I hope to return someday. That being said, it is seriously overrepresented in American popular culture. The vast majority of romantic comedies and sitcoms take place in New York City, and it’s a shame. It’s a shame because people fall in love in Portland or in Cheyenne or (in the case of Love…) in Pittsburgh, and their stories are often the peculiar by-product of the place they choose to live. Yet those are realities that we rarely get to experience.
3. The honest and painful depiction of Parkinson’s disease. Cancer is the go-to villain in popular culture these days, because we all know what cancer looks like: you feel a lump, you get sick, you lose your hair, and then you die. Or maybe live. In any case, we know the process.
I’m always interested, then, in stories that depict other equally-debilitating conditions – like, say, diabetes, or multiple sclerosis. Because in those areas we have the opportunity to learn something new through the story about how those who suffer from it live and cope.
Now, I’m not saying that Love… is like a Lifetime disease-of-the-week film or anything. The writing, and especially Anne Hathaway’s depiction of Maggie’s early-onset Parkinson’s, keep the character from being totally defined by her disease. And the scene where Maggie attends a meeting of other Parkinson’s sufferers, and hears for the first time the stories of other people like her – well, it’s emotional stuff, and ably done.
4. The Village Voice hated it. On any subject, you can count on the Voice to take the most pretentious and arrogant angle imaginable; they’re like Pitchfork but without any taste whatsoever. About Love… they wrote that “the most egregious four-quadrant pander-party of the year, Ed Zwick’s latest middlebrow atrocity has been so carefully market-tested that it needn’t even be seen, just administered directly into the bloody mainstream”, a statement that shows such contempt for anyone not the critic that it makes me want to spit. In any medium, you can be fairly sure that if the Voice hates it, you’’ll like it, and vice versa.