Killing Me Softly
(Love and Other Drugs, Edward Zwick, USA, 2010, 112 mins)
[Warning: I have mentioned a few spoilers concerning the plot]
The biggest element that seems to be apparently absent in modern day romantic comedies is the chemistry between the two main leads, who are more often than not the wrong couple to combine. However, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal create remarkable passion and a soothing overdose of pleasure as we watch two beautiful actors working together well, particularly since their tense and unsuccessful relationship in their previous film together, Brokeback Mountain (2005). Gyllenhaal’s role in this film appears to be taken more seriously; regardless of his egotistical personality as Jamie Randall, a pharmaceutical salesman for “Pfizer” whose charm woos the ladies, the adult content being dealt with here makes this romantic comedy more of a drama. Nevertheless, Love and Other Drugs still accommodates the real issues that strike home, such as a relationship that has no serious potential for the couple involved, yet the film’s deeper themes surround Maggie (Anne Hathaway), who is desperately battling the first stage of Parkinson’s disease, whilst in contrast of her declining health the film emphasises the deterioration of the American medical world.
I have had my moments where I’ve thought about death, particularly dying young and what effect that would have on loved ones, but I have never had to consider what it would be like to remain with a loved one who you would consequently watch disappear. This notion is what makes the film so heart-breaking, particularly in the scene where Maggie attends a convention for other people with her disease, who talk individually to the audience about the difficulties of “trying to tie my tie” and simple activities that their tremors complicate, laughing about it and easing the pain of their fate, a warming scene which is not unlike the beginning of Up In The Air (2009). It is the simple movement of Hathaway’s smile which makes this film so stunning; the appreciation of the finer expressions in life, even laughing. The film doesn’t highlight too much detail of the disease, though perhaps it should have for those of us less educated in the symptoms of Parkinson’s, but instead captures the true features of relationships; trust, loyalty, paranoia and accepting that you are good enough for someone. Many obstacles overcome this, as expected, such as the man who has a wife with the disease claiming he “would not do it this way again” and the search for a cure that will never come. Despite this, the audience witness the introduction of the drug Viagra, which consequently, and ironically, seemed to decrease the amount of passion between the couple as Maggie struggles to receive the medication she needs.
Hathaway’s yearn for independence in Maggie is admirable; the confidence she displays in actions such as pouring a glass of vodka, or cutting a photo, as well as her grasp on the film as a whole, which she takes into her own hands and dominates triumphantly. On the other hand, Gyllenhaal has come a long way from The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and both characters shed their insecurities and commitment issues throughout the film, making them more relatable to the audience. The very graphic and surprisingly frequent scenes of passionate sex looks and feels genuine; they aren’t a couple getting it wrong the first time, Zwick proves this through a variety of angled shots, which may be an intense experience for some to watch as they are so blunt, but there is also a relief felt as this couple aren’t afraid to flaunt what they’ve got. Thus, the comical moments were not found in an embarrassing fondle, but from Jamie’s arrogant brother Josh (Josh Gad), who drifts from the narrative occasionally and makes a rather appropriate older Jonah Hill. He learns from the best, and ruins all the conventional clichés usually found in romantic comedies. Maggie also has some funny dialogue, including some very amusing erectile dysfunction puns.
Maggie’s love of art; photos, drawings and the black and white home footage illustrate who they were as a couple, and reflects with who they will become as we accept Maggie will gradually worsen; not unlike the expectations that some people may have of future films of the romance genre. Perhaps it’s about time audiences were prescribed something a little bit stronger?