Wednesday, April 11, 2012


From the producer/director team that brought us THIRTYSOMETHING, Marshall Herskowitz and Edward Zwick, this is a situation love story -- better than most, though not completely innocent of the genre's usual clichés, nor indeed a few from other genres.

The year is 1992. Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a yuppie womanizer, gets his first serious job as a pharmaceuticals rep with Pfizer, northern Ohio territory, just before they made history with Viagra. Coming from Zwick and Herskowitz, I anticipated a critique of the pharmaceuticals epidemic in America, but then quickly realized they would never have obtained Pfizer's cooperation with a damning storyline. What happens instead is this: While trying to convince local doctors to dump their antidepressants in favor of Zoloft, and encountering steep competition from other companies offering bribes, he meets Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a young woman in her late 20s yet already afflicted with stage one Parkinson's disease. To their mutual surprise, they enter into a purely sexual relationship that is immediately transcendent and sobering, becomes more serious as her condition worsens. Shortly after they finally cross the bridge of declaring their feelings for one another, Maggie realizes what their future is likely to be and doesn't want to be a burden, and Jamie has to persuade her that love eliminates all sense of burden. They both go their separate ways and, obviously, find their way back to one another.

What is most painful about the film is nothing I've mentioned yet, but an agonizingly sophomoric sidecar driven by Josh Gad, who plays the handsome grinny hero's fat, slovenly, masturbating, freak accident internet millionaire brother Josh, who is recovering from a marital separation in Jamie's apartment. I don't mean to be cruel to Gad, who delivers exactly what the role asked for, but it's like teen comedies took a giant crap in the middle of an otherwise diverting, occasionally moving story about two believable adults. I've never before seen a film that won me entirely over to the talents of Gyllenhaal or Hathaway, but this film comes closest, especially for Hathaway, who depicts Maggie with various shades of fragility that are interesting rather than simply diminishing. As she loses strengths, she finds ways to give her persuasive new ones. As for Gyllenhaal, he gives a surprisingly physical performance considering how much the film is based around talk, and his growth as a character and evident range as an actor make him likeable. Their sex scenes convey a more believable sense of heat and connection than mainstream dramas normally attempt. Judy Greer, an actress with equal talent for drama and light comedy whom I've been noticing a lot lately in films and on cable television, is a welcome addition as a receptionist to on-the-take Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), and Oliver Platt is his usually amusing self as Jamie's professional mentor. Seeing Azaria and Platt in the same picture reminded me that I'm still nursing some wounds from HBO's cancellation of HUFF.

Viewed on Cinemax On Demand.

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