Friday, November 26, 2010

Drugs Don't Cure People. People Cure People.

Most of the way through "Love And Other Drugs," Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) and Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) reenact a classic scene for which Charles Dickens provides perhaps the most timeless rendition in A Christmas Carol. Having been seduced by the mean old world, young Ebenezer Scrooge is released from their engagement by his impoverished fiancee. Every time, you want him to fight for her, but he never does.

The lucre tempting Jamie isn't money (he never comes off as greedy) but the freedom of perpetual adolescence. Maggie, who has stage one Parkinson's Disease, knows that Jamie's ambivalent about being with someone with a wasting illness. We see a lot of these attractive young people. The movie definitely earns its R rating. But Maggie's body is already failing her, and Jamie's far too fixated on a miracle cure. So she makes him leave.

Set in the late 1990s, just before Pfizer rolls out Viagra, the movie's good enough that you understand why he does as she asks. What's a little odd is the confined narrative laboratory in which he finally grows up. If we were told where he and Maggie live, I missed it. The underachieving, unappreciated son of an overachieving doctor, he gets a job as a traveling drug salesman but hardly seems to travel. The wonderful Oliver Platt brackets the movie as a Tums-popping colleague who tantalizes Jamie with a shot at the promised land of Pfizer's Chicago corporate offices if he can get enough doctors to switch from Prozac to Zoloft. Jamie appears to confine his efforts to the same medical plaza and is constantly interacting (in the office, parking lot, and local saloons) with the same clients and competitors.

All we learn about Maggie's background is that she was taking Ritalin at age ten. Floating around her funky, "Singles"-era apartment, she makes collages of her photographs, smokes medical marijuana, and listens to Liz Phair. She appears to support herself by taking cash-strapped senior citizens to Canada to buy drugs. There's plenty of preaching about things medical in the movie, but it's inconsistent. Targets are drug companies, corrupt doctors, and predatory malpractice firms and insurance companies that victimize doctors. Although for sheer comic relief we get TMI about an over-four-hours episode, the little blue pill turns out to be the only thing anyone can really count on, besides, eventually, Jason's emotional potency.