(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Reverend's Reviews: Naked Love

As co-host Anne Hathaway mused during last week's Oscars telecast, "You know, it used to be that if you got naked, you got a nomination; Not anymore." She was amusingly referring to her frequently-topless performance in last year's Love & Other Drugs, just released on DVD and Blu-ray. While the Academy may have overlooked her, Hathaway and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal did receive deserved 2010 Golden Globe nominations.

In this sometimes touching, sometimes strained romantic-dramedy, Gyllenhaal plays Jamie Randall, a callow pharmaceutical salesman during the late 1990's when such now ubiquitous drugs as Prozak and Viagra were first introduced. Jamie will use any means necessary — especially bedding pretty medical secretaries — to spotlight the meds he's peddling in his quest to become Pfizer's #1 field rep.

His ladder-climbing, commitment-phobic ways begin to falter, however, when he meets and begins a casual sexual relationship with Maggie Murdock (Hathaway). Jamie is immediately smitten by Maggie's sharp wit, zest for life and exposed breasts, which he spies during a medical exam. So smitten is Jamie that he doesn't bat an eye when he learns Maggie has been diagnosed with early onset Parkinson's Disease, a degenerative neurological condition that will eventually leave her totally incapacitated. Maggie, all too aware of her gradual physical deterioration, has avoided serious relationships... until she meets Jamie, that is.

Love & Other Drugs garnered much pre-release buzz over the extensive nudity reportedly displayed by its attractive co-stars. The buzz seemed to die down quickly though, perhaps because the sex and nudity are depicted casually/realistically and fairly non-provocatively. One can only see Hathaway's buxom bosom and Gyllenhaal's shapely derriere so many times before they become just another part of the scenery, which is to the filmmakers' credit.

The screenplay was co-written by the director, Edward Zwick (who has previously done more significant movies, including Glory and The Last Samurai), and is adapted from Jamie Reidy's autobiographical book Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman. Trying to tread the line carefully, things get shaky whenever Zwick goes for drama rather than comedy. Also, the movie's moral — which basically criticizes drug companies for investing more in what could be deemed unnecessary medications like Viagra than they do in the treatment of truly debilitating conditions such as Parkinson's — is awfully heavy-handed.

Despite its flaws, the film does feature moments of insight into human nature thanks chiefly to Hathaway's and Gyllenhaal's performances. The two have great chemistry (they previously played a conflicted husband and wife in Brokeback Mountain), and I'd love to see them work together again in either a flat-out comedy or a serious drama. They and the film also benefit from a strong supporting cast that includes Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, George Segal and, in one of her final appearances, Jill Clayburgh.

One won't require an antibiotic after watching Love & Other Drugs, but most viewers will likely have the feeling it could have been better.

Reverend's Rating: C+

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.

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