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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Love and Other Oscar Hosts

"You know, there's a pill for that..."

The most comforting thing about Edward Zwick's first foray into the rom-com world is that we can be pretty sure he won't be doing it again. Love and Other Drugs was far from a success, and it's understandable why. Think back to... Autumn in New York. Or Sweet November. Or Stepmom. Or Love Story. You remember how banal those films were? This really isn't any better. That isn't to say that the film is without merit, or not at all enjoyable. It has merit, and it's a ridiculously easy watch. It's medicine that goes down smooth, but never gets to the symptoms. 

Of course, it's based on a memoir. Jamie Reidy's "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman". So, when I go back and think about the film, I have to constantly remind myself (or, maybe, convince) that these are real people. This happened, for what it's worth. Probably not in the way the film presents it, but so rarely is that ever the case. In any event, these things are true - there was a Viagra salesman who met a woman with Parkinson's Disease and they fell in love. Also, and the film never lets us forget it, Jerry Maguire was released around this time. Jake Gyllenhaal's constant costume of blazers, plain tee's, and Raybans suggest that's all Jamie had in his closet.

He's surrounded by a mostly fine supporting cast. Hank Azaria surprised me by how much pathos was injected into his character. And Oliver Platt's small role just furthers my argument that he should be in every movie ever.

Gyllenhaal's magnetic charm and understanding of his character drew me in from the very first scene. He's a natural born salesman. Not Jamie, but Jake. He's one of those actors who could read the phone book and keep me captivated for hours. Match that with Anne Hathaway's, our terminal love interest, overt sexiness and undeniable wit, and we have a match made in Hollywood Heaven. But, match all of that with a screenplay pumped out from a "funny romantic comedy moments" generator, and that's where our movie starts to fail. Its pacing and slick editing make this all too watchable, but the heart of the film didn't beat for me. Not once. Most of the time, I was reminded of this old MadTV skit -- 

But, that's purely superficial. The film does have its moments.

Particularly in one scene, though it had no business being in the movie, where Gyllenhaal is at a Parkinson's "un"convention and he meets the husband of a Stage Four survivor. He asks for advice, and the man coldly replies "Run." It's an expertly crafted scene, but it just doesn't flow with the film around it. Still, it's a well done moment. And most of the song cues are well handled, as are the more light-hearted moments. I think my problem with the film really just comes down to its jarring shifts in tone.

Anne Hathaway's performance, however, is truly something special. And, were she given a better script, she would have been all over this awards season, triumphing. She's Earthy, she's compulsive, she's - most importantly - tangible. It's the kind of performance you can feel in your bones. Believable from her first scene,  and so on until her beautifully realized final moments. Her performance is extremely controlled, but it never feels like she's playing it safe. She displayed this sort of talent in Rachel Getting Married, and Brokeback Mountain (her other film with her Gyllenhaal), and she only furthers it here.

The most important thing to remember, probably, about Love and Other Drugs is that it is - first and foremost - respectful of the illness it portrays. The only time when it is played for laughs is during the Parkinson's convention Hathaway's Maggie attends, and actual survivors speak and tell jokes. Otherwise, it's treated with an appropriate somberness, but done so that the film doesn't lose its lightheartedness. Zwick's a talented director, and I'll certainly see his next departure. But, there was just too much on his plate, I think. And he didn't have the screenplay to support him.

But, the Oscar host...

Yeah, we're at that part. What I find most interesting about the choice of our Oscar hosts this year, in Anne Hathaway and James Franco, is the types of performers they are. Franco has recently acquired this very intense, Brando-esque persona, and Hathaway has always seemed like the Disney princess next door.

Hathaway has been up on our Kodak stage before, once with Hugh Jackman during his opening number, and grew up in a theater-ish environment (her mother is stage performer Kate McCauley Hathaway). She was almost cast as Christine in 2004's Phantom of the Opera. So, she's got the voice, as if performing at Carnegie Hall twice wasn't an indication.

Franco's the only one of the team I question. He started acting young, but doesn't have a lot of stage experience from what I could dig up. I'm guessing some theater in college, but then he went to do Freaks and Geeks and... just film every since. Let me know if I'm missing something.

Still, I'm banking on the two having excellent chemistry together. I'm sure they will - even if they don't, they're both talented actors. So, they can fake it.