Thursday, November 25, 2010

They're Not At All In Love

Based on William Shakespeare's farce, The Comedy of Errors (first published in 1623), The Boys From Syracuse opened at the Alvin Theatre on November 23, 1938 and became an instant hit. Adapted and directed by George Abbott (with choreography by George Balanchine), the musical comedy starred Eddie Albert and Jimmy Savo. With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Lorenz Hart, one of the show's hit songs contained the following lyric:
"Falling in love with love is falling for make believe.
Falling in love with love is playing the fool;
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy.
Learning to trust is just for children in school.

I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full
I was unwise with eyes unable to see.
I fell in love with love, with love everlasting,
But love fell out with me."
Lots of romantic comedies have been based on the concept of "loathe at first sight." Precious few have been able to frame their plot as candidly as Love and Other Drugs, the new film by Edward Zwick that recently opened nationwide. There are many reasons to see this film, not the least of which are Jake Gyllenhall's muscular thighs and juicy butt cheeks.

This is an intelligent, carefully-crafted sex dramedy with a plot that doesn't pull any punches. Based on Jamie Reidy's 2005 novel, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, it could just as easily have been titled "The Enlightenment of a Self-Avowed Asshole."

Gyllenhall plays a confident young lothario who knows how to charm the ladies. As a salesman, Jamie Randall (Gyllenhall) knows exactly how to turn it on, when to pull back, and when to wait for a woman to want him. His moves are slick, successful, and lead to plenty of casual sex.

While Jamie has never lived up to his physician father's expectations, his sexual prowess has always made him a hero to his kid brother, Josh (Josh Gad). A clumsy, fat, insecure putz, Josh has made millions in the software business. Both Jamie and Josh know that, despite the younger brother's sudden wealth, Josh will always be a putz.

Poster art for Love and Other Drugs

Josh may be completely lacking in social skills, but he can smell money like a pig can sniff out truffles. After his older brother gets fired from a low-level sales position at an electronics store (for fucking one of his co-workers in the back room while on break), Josh points out that pharmaceutical sales reps are the only people whose entry level jobs start at $100,000 a year.

In no time at all Jamie has entered a training program where he is assigned to a middle-aged mentor named Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt). Winston may lack Jamie's looks and charm, but they both understand the importance of one word: pussy.

After learning that his top competitor is a former military man named Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht), Jamie finds a way to ingratiate himself with Hannigan's prize contact, Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria). Having charmed the good doctor into letting him tag along as an intern, Jamie then gets to watch Dr. Knight examine a beautiful patient named Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) who, worried about a potential lump, unhesitatingly bares her breast in the examination room. As you can see see in the following trailer, Jamie and Maggie don't exactly "meet cute":

To make matters worse, Maggie is devilishly smart, a talented artist, and the kind of liberated woman who is capable of beating Jamie at his own game. Just as the handsome young drug rep has perfected the old "Find'em, feel'em, fuck'em, and forget'em" routine, Maggie is only interested in  no-strings-attached sex.  She wants it hot and heavy, but with no emotional involvement.

That's because Maggie has recently been diagnosed with stage 1 Parkinson's disease. Lonely, scared, and not wanting to be humped and dumped (like she was by Trey Hannigan as soon as he learned about her illness), Maggie's psychological defenses are up, even if her sexual guard is down.

Not only does Love and Other Drugs meticulously plot a growing relationship in which a woman tells the man that she'd prefer it if he were a total shit (and he admits to being fully qualified for the role), it never apologizes for the casual sex that sparks a growing lust between Jamie and Maggie. Along the way, the movie gets some pretty good digs in at how physicians are corrupted by drug reps and how a boner pill gets all the pharmaceutical industry's support while seniors must travel to Canada to get affordable medications.

From its two leads down to minor character roles, this is a movie that has been blessed with great casting by Victoria Thomas. Because Gyllenhall and Hathaway are such strong and fearless actors, the sex scenes never seem gratuitous.  In fact, they make the film's subsequent seriousness all the more poignant.

As you watch Love and Other Drugs, don't be surprised if you find yourself thinking that Anne Hathaway (who has always been an extremely intelligent, daring, and talented actor) is now positioned to take over the kinds of roles that once headed directly toward Julia Roberts. Hathaway's onscreen magnetism -- and the sparks that fly between her and Gyllenhall -- also make one wonder if the two might make a great team in subsequent movies.

Hathaway has a solid singing voice (as was demonstrated when she starred in the New York City Center's February, 2002 Encores production of Carnival (click here to watch her perform "Yes, My Heart" ). In his review in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote:

"Give thanks for Anne Hathaway, who just completed her freshman year at Vassar and who somehow makes unspotted purity look like the latest fashion. This is essential, since the appeal of  Carnival, a show of strangely polarized sensibilities, lies in the balance of a slightly smirky cynicism and the unquestioned innocence of its leading lady.
Ms. Hathaway, best known for the Cinderella fantasy film, The Princess Diaries, has a flutish, frill-free soprano that is the opposite of show-biz brass and a pretty, open face that looks as if it had never raised an eyebrow. Making her New York debut, she trades on her novice status to create a sense of unblinking wonder."
Since 2002, Hathaway's screen portrayals have grown increasingly complex and ballsy. Considering the classic movie musicals that are already in preproduction for new film versions (Damn Yankees and My Fair Lady in 2012, South Pacific in 2013), I'd love to see her star opposite Gyllenhall in a remake of The Pajama Game. Watch this clip with Doris Day and John Raitt from the 1957 film and see if you don't agree:

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