Sometimes in my dreams it’s the 1990s all over again, and my feelings about it are always ambivalent. If the dream is good, I get to dance to Nirvana with a club logo stamped on my wrist. If it’s bad, I have to take the train to get to the nearest Starbucks and I don’t even have a cellphone, just a pager. Prehistoric stuff.
Still, my guess is that many adults out there have a soft spot for the ’90s, and director Edward Zwick (“The Last Samurai”) is a prime example. Witness his latest, “Love & Other Drugs,” for evidence — Zwick is mightily enamoured with clunky desktop computers, power executives, pagers, business suits and briefcases bulging with A4 documents. Those were the days — when people drank themselves silly after work, didn’t really give a hoot about exercise and felt free to smoke. They were also blissfully unaware of inconvenient truths about government, social injustice and the environment, and could therefore concentrate on stuff that really mattered — like sex.
The gist of “Love & Other Drugs” is that in the mid to late ’90s (when the story takes place), people had tons of real, undiluted sex, and should anyone in their crazy minds call or send an email during that time, they were ignored — as opposed to today, when many couples jump at any excuse to fondle a smartphone.
From start to finish, the movie is in this big, roomy nostalgic groove, and though the story itself is often skittish and all over the place, you have to admire the filmmakers for their sheer, dedicated single-mindedness in depicting two people tearing off each others’ clothes all the time.
And when the pair happen to be as hot and brilliant as Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, there’s practically no reason not to get all starry-eyed and pine for the days when “let’s go to bed” meant something other than mutual zoning out in front of an iPad. Granted, “Love & Other Drugs” is hell-bent on touching upon every ’90s issue at once, and even throwing in Parkinson’s disease for good measure. And yes, Zwick’s tendency to stack the plate with every single veggie in the salad bar can get a little annoying. But the pair’s performances stand out as the best thing the film has going for it; with or without clothes, Hathaway and Gyllenhaal are two extremely watchable people. When push comes to shove, that’s the only thing a love story really needs.
Hathaway plays Maggie, a free-spirit artist in Pittsburgh suffering from stage one of Parkinson’s disease. Maggie is 26, and the odds of Parkinson’s settling in a person that young are so rare, doctors do a double-take when they see her medical sheet. Gyllenhaal is Jamie, a sales rep for Pfizer who has sex carved into his brain and always likes to combine business with pleasure at the hospitals where he makes his rounds.
Maggie and Jamie meet and click and proceed to undress just when Pfizer comes out with a new wonder drug called Viagra. Jamie’s career takes off and he experiences twinges of serious feelings for Maggie — feelings he has never experienced, urging him to plow ahead. Maggie, for her part, remains commitment-phobic and a little distant. Fueled by a Vigara-related pay raise and imminent promotion, Jamie takes Maggie off on a cross-country trip to visit Parkinson’s specialists, only to wear her out and get dumped.
In the meantime, Zwick throws in such period issues as America’s glitchy health-care system, Parkinson’s “activist meetings” that are portrayed as a witty exchange (among the patients!) of sexual innuendoes and risque illness jokes, Silicon Valley business legends who turn out to be fat, antisocial jerks, and even a male bonding thing between Jamie and an older sales rep (Oliver Platt) who shows him the ropes.
Zwick still ain’t done — there’s also Hank Azaria’s snarky doctor, who practically orders Jamie to get him laid in exchange for selling him pills but who is at heart a lonely, lonely man. And drinking, partying and ordering of junk food out the gazoo form the appropriate end-of-century backdrop you just don’t see in movies of today. Everyone’s too busy and filmmakers are too aware of the pitfalls concerning the endorsement of alcohol and factory food. Boring.
But it’s almost Thanksgiving season after all, and an overstuffed turkey is a more welcome sight now than at any other time. “Love & Other Drugs” may be scatter-brained and unrestrained, but it gives off a warm caloric glow that’s positively nourishing to the senses. Much more effective than cranking up the air-con.