Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Love and Other Drugs" is a movie that could have said something important, but didn't.

Normally, I have no interest in romantic comedies. They are too formulaic and unrealistic for me. But when I saw the preview for the movie “Love and Other Drugs” starring Jake Gyllenhal and Anne Hathaway, I was interested. It was about a drug rep for a big pharmaceutical company and a sick woman without health insurance who fall in love. It had the potential to raise all kinds of interesting questions about the American health care industry. I watched it today and was sorely disappointed.

The movie pokes occasional and light-hearted fun at the sometimes shady relationship between drug reps and doctors. Jake Gyllenhal basically bribes a doctor with money and vacations to get him to prescribe his company’s drug Zoloft instead of his competitor’s drug Prozac. Is he conflicted about this? Is he racked with guilt and ethical uncertainty? Not really. He’s way more concerned about closing sales and having sex with Anne Hathaway, a 26-year-old Parkinson’s patient.

Hathaway should have reason to be outraged at Gyllenhal and his profession. She has Parkinson’s and no health insurance. Once a week, she leads a bus of senior citizens to Canada, where they can afford their prescriptions. When she mentions this to Gyllenhal, is he conflicted? Do they even have a conversation about it? No, they go home and film themselves having sex. And guess what happens next??? His overweight and funny brother finds the tape and watches it and masturbates!!!! Hahaha!!!! Cinematic gold.

How are the drug companies depicted in the movie? They are depicted as big business, beyond good and evil. Gyllenhal goes to a six-week sales training seminar, where he is given instructions for “closing sales” with doctors. The whole spectacle is obsene and perverse. There are fireworks and cheerleader-type dancers. Again, rather than pondering the ethical problems of “pitching” anti-depressants like they were plasma-screen TVs, Gyllenhal spends his time eagerly practicing his new sales techniques-- how to smooth talk doctors, how to bribe them “legally.” It’s depicted as just “part of the job.”

At first I was surprised that actual drug companies would allow their company names to be used in the film: Pfizer and Lilly. But, when I realized that the movie was far less interested in pondering ethical considerations of pharmateutical sales, and far more interested in showing Anne Hathaway naked, I thought—they have nothing to fear. In fact, with the “devil-may-care” enthusiasm with which the drug Viagra is presented in the film, this movie might even be GOOD for business.

In the end, this is the greatest failure of “Love and Other Drugs.” Rather than offering a thoughtful criticism of big pharma, it ends up glamorizing the excess and heartlessness that defines this industry, and the story degenerates to a cliché romantic comedy.

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Instead of exposing Anne Hathaway, the movie should have spent more time and focus exposing the health care industry.

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