#97 – Love and Other Drugs – Edward Zwick – 2010
There was a reason I knew Anne Hathaway was the right choice to play both Fantine in Les Miserables and Selina Kyle in The Dark Knight Rises as soon as they were announced. It wasn’t the fact that I’ve loved her as an actress since I saw her in The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. It wasn’t her excellent performances in The Devil Wears Prada or Rachel Getting Married. It was a small, and incredibly underrated comedy from 2010 with what I would still argue is her best performance yet. Love and Other Drugs is a film from the inconsistent writer director Edward Zwick and a simplistic analysis (also known as the main critical analysis) would say that it’s a satirical look at the Pharmaceutical industry in the United States. While there is most definitely a satire written into this film, what makes it a great film is two career high performances and the one of the first honest attempts at telling an adult romance in decades.
The story is that of a pharmaceutical rep played by Jake Gyllenhaal. While trying to make a lot of money selling drugs that a lot of people don’t really need, he meets a woman (Anne Hathaway) with early onset Parkinson’s disease. While she starts off hating him (and considering the circumstances, you can’t blame her), the two eventually realize they really, really, like each other. Not love mind you. They go through a mile and a half of troubles and struggles and even once they’ve both said those three fatal words, they still can’t say that they love each other to each other at the same time. Their struggle with her illness ranges from her lack of self-love to his attempt to get her better to their realization that while neither of them is perfect, they make each other feel better about their imperfections. It’s a comedy that draws its humour from reality rather than happenstance. It’s a drama the draws its emotional resonance from human concerns about life and relationships that transcend the trivial.
The two performances at the heart of this film are remarkable for their naturalism. Gyllenhaal is an asshole plain and simple. He goes into his work for the money and tries to make money by flirting and getting into bed with the women he meets at the offices of the doctors he’s selling drugs to. He meets the woman that he eventually falls in love with while she is getting a breast exam in a doctor’s office he has no business being in. He gets her phone number by tricking the woman he’s currently sleeping with into giving it to him (quite illegally). He is doing all of this to impress the parents that he has always disappointed, and has no trouble stretching the truth to make his accomplishments all the greater.
On the other hand we have Hathaway who provides the less obviously relatable character, and yet ends up as the emotional anchor of the film. While Gyllenhaal is going through his first world problems of being a giant douche, Hathaway is dealing with the inescapability of having a degenerative disease. She can’t express herself the way she wants to, she can’t take her pills, she can’t pour herself a drink without something screwing up. But what’s so brilliant about her performance is her overwhelming sense of self-hatred masquerading as confidence. She blames herself for everything that her illness causes; eventually ending things with the man she loves. And all of her insecurities and vulnerabilities lay in front of you on screen. It’s a visceral performance that was terribly ignored.
Love and Other Drugs is a wildly underrated film and one that relies heavily on two performances to carry the entire message of the film. In relation to the other films on the list so far, like Highlander is far removed from its typical critical reaction due to my perception of a few elements of the film. In Highlander, the mood, cinematography, and lighting make the film a visual spectacle for me to watch, and gives it incredibly high re-watch value. Similarly, Love and Other Drugs, had two stellar performances (supplemented by a few great supporting roles) along with an incredibly funny and human script give it a high re-watch value. There are many films on this list that fit this description and it is important for my philosophy on film that a single aspect of a film, if important enough, can give it the gravitas to compete with the classics.