A romantic comedy—plus sex. Lots of it.

‘Love and Other Drugs’ mixes Viagra, rare chemistry and screwball satire

A romantic comedy—plus sex. Lots of it.
The studio trailer conveniently omitted any mention of the story’s premise—Anne Hathaway’s character has Parkinson’s disease | David James/Twentieth Century Fox

Now here’s something you don’t see everyday: a romantic comedy from a Hollywood studio featuring ample nudity from two beautiful Oscar-nominated stars who perform a lot of hot-blooded sex scenes. Got your attention? The actors are Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, who first appeared together as a sexless married couple in Brokeback Mountain but are now tearing each other’s clothes off in Love and Other Drugs.

The film presents one of the most sporting displays of sexuality between two glamourous, big-eyed A-list movie stars since?.?.?.?well, you have to go back to the 1970s to find anything like it. R-rated studio rom-coms these days are rare. And those that do come along (There’s Something About Mary, Wedding Crashers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, It’s Complicated) tend to earn their scarlet letter “R” with jolts of gross-out profanity and flashes of shock-and-awe nudity—the male frontal variety being the latest gimmick.

But in Love and Other Drugs, sex is the engine of the romance. (What a novel concept!) Set in the 1990s, it’s the tale of a skirt-chasing Viagra salesman named Jamie (Gyllenhaal) and a free spirit named Maggie (Hathaway) who meet and bond over a mutual aversion to commitment. “This isn’t about connection for you,” Maggie tells Jamie. “This isn’t even about sex for you. This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you, which is fine with me because all I want is exactly the same thing.”

What the studio trailer for the movie conveniently neglects to point out is that Hathaway’s character is a victim of early-onset Parkinson’s disease—a fact that’s revealed in her very first scene, and quickly becomes a huge part of the narrative as she resists emotional involvement. “I guess that’s based on some shrewd marketing decision,” director Edward Zwick told Maclean’s. “Maybe it’s a decision the studio makes out of some fear the movie would be understood to be only that. Because it’s not only about Parkinson’s.”

In fact, as the title suggests, Love and Other Drugs is about a bunch of stuff. Loosely based on Jamie Reedy’s 2005 memoir, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, it has parallels to The Social Network, which dramatized the creation of Facebook. With lines like “this is not a pill, this is software,” it’s another birth-of-a-salesman yarn that draws a caustic portrait of expansionist greed while savaging a brand name with apparent impunity. As Jamie bribes doctors to prescribe Zoloft, then graduates to flogging Viagra, Pfizer (the blue pill’s manufacturer) is depicted as the arch-villain of Big Pharma. Coincidentally, says Zwick, “while we were shooting, the U.S. Justice Department levelled the largest corporate fine in history against Pfizer—$2.3 billion for repeated violations, some of which we talk about in the movie.”

But Zwick doesn’t want to see his movie reduced to a screwball satire of Big Pharma, or a Parkinson’s drama, or even a sex romp. A film can juggle multiple themes, he says, citing 1975’s Shampoo: “It’s about Beverly Hills and this hairdresser, but it’s also about what’s going on politically in the landscape of an election. Often romantic comedies exist in a vacuum, and it’s kind of odd.”

After directing a string of political thrillers in far-flung countries (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond, Defiance), Zwick now comes full circle, returning to the personal terrain he first explored in TV’s thirtysomething with Marshall Herzkovitz, who co-wrote and co-produced this film. And with his two gorgeous, doe-eyed stars, he lucked into some rare chemistry. After Brokeback, “there was a familiarity and trust between them,” he says. And though the nudity was uncomfortable at first, they got used to it. “That’s your costume: being naked,” adds Zwick. “Maybe we were naive. The shock wore off with us rather quickly and we thought it would have the same effect on the audience.”

Hathaway has said she cried every day of the shoot. “She’s an emotional girl,” says Zwick. “She so desperately wanted to get it right, to honour people with Parkinson’s.” She was also breaking new ground—the first actress to fake an orgasm and a Parkinson’s tremor at the same time.