Ed Zwick doesn’t want to seem like a pill, but he’s on a rant against the pharmaceutical industry in his latest movie, “Love and Other Drugs.” On the surface, it’s your typical romantic-comedy, much like Zwick’s 1986 directorial debut, “About Last Night.” But look beneath the oft-bared skin of stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway and you’ll see some of the naked truths about the pharmaceutical industry.
Ed Zwick doesn’t want to seem like a pill, but he’s on a rant against the pharmaceutical industry in his latest movie, “Love and Other Drugs.”
On the surface, it’s your typical romantic-comedy, much like Zwick’s 1986 directorial debut, “About Last Night.” But look beneath the oft-bared skin of stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway and you’ll see some of the naked truths about the pharmaceutical industry.
Zwick, a Harvard grad, said he sensed a seismic shift in our culture in late 1990s, when TV ads made certain drugs household names.
“People who had never heard the name of any drug could now name 10; and they would tell their doctors which ones to prescribe,” said Zwick during a trip to Cambridge to promote the film. “Suddenly, what had been the province of doctors, became the province of consumers, creating a culture that’s now much more dependent on pharmaceuticals.”
The film, culled from Jamie Reidy’s memoir, “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman,” centers its attention on Pfizer, where Reidy made a bundle by promising doctors copious amounts of free Viagra if they bought the company’s other products, most notably, the anti-depressant Zoloft. But Zwick insists that the use of payola is common throughout the industry, which, like the stock market, has little or no government regulation.
That lack of supervision, he said, is dangerous, citing instances of doctors prescribing Prozac, an anti-depressant, to ease menstrual cramps in teenage girls.
“Drugs are only as good as the supervision and the diagnostics,” Zwick said. “I think it’s wrong to categorically go after something, but I also think that … the experimental, off-label usage of something like Prozac is despicable. Like somebody once said, ‘a difference in degree is a difference in kind.’”
A hit of Prozac might come in handy, though, while traversing the emotional roller-coaster “Love and Other Drugs” takes you on in exploring a romance in which one of the young lovers happens to have Stage 1 Parkinson’s. That would be Hathaway’s Maggie, a vivacious, sexually liberated woman, who subconsciously uses her disease as a shield against letting any man get close to her.
Sure enough, she finds the perfect lover in Gyllenhaal’s Jamie, an untethered traveling Pfizer salesman, who sees sex not as a route to intimacy, but as a means to sell products, including himself. To him, a woman’s virtue lies in how much she’s willing to buy. And Maggie isn’t buying any of it, which only makes her more attractive to him.
Zwick said the art of seduction also encompasses Gyllenhaal and Hathaway’s ability to get the audience to believe in their characters and their plight, which is Parkinson’s, the crippling disease that robs its victims of speech and muscle control. It’s an element that few, if any, rom-coms would dare let intrude on the inherent fluff at hand. But Zwick said he knew instinctively that Gyllenhaal and Hathaway had the chops to handle the comedic and dramatic parts equally well.
“I saw them together in ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ but that’s not what drew me to them,” Zwick said. “I think it was more from getting to know each of them individually … and having some instinct about what they would be like together.”
Chemistry was a must, Zwick said, but even more important to the roles was their willingness to do many of their scenes au naturel.
“We knew we wanted to make it authentic, and nudity is part of that,” Zwick said. “When young lovers come together and they’re really into each other, they spend a lot of time without their clothes on – even when they’re just talking. It’s not just about sex, it’s about reveling in your youth and beauty, too.”
Zwick said he was thrilled by the level of commitment his stars gave, but said he was particularly taken by the depth of Hathaway’s wrenching portrayal of Maggie, a free spirit staring at a future of utter dependence.
“When you look at her work over the last couple of years, it’s just grown in this wonderful way,” he said of Hathaway, who has been drawing Oscar buzz for her three-dimensional performance. “When she did ‘Rachel Getting Married,’ and she did Shakespeare in the Park, she really started coming into her own. It’s a marvelous thing to see.”
Ironically, as Hathaway’s stock has soared, Zwick feels his has dipped. And he blames himself for being too much of an “issue’s-minded director” with movies like “The Last Samurai,” “Courage Under Fire,” “Blood Diamond,” “Defiance” and his Oscar-winning “Glory,” about the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
“As one’s career goes on, I think it’s important to stay a moving target,” said Zwick, who just turned 58. “And I realized that for a good number of years I’ve been doing things that really pleased me, but might have given people the wrong impression of what I was able to do as a filmmaker.”
A comedy, he said, was just the ticket. So he and his chief collaborator for the past 30 years, Marshall Herskovitz, optioned Reidy’s satirical, but moving tale about sex drugs and rock ’n’ roll in the 1990s. But Zwick being Zwick, he couldn’t resist slipping in a serious moment or two amid the frivolity.
“Nothing can be too funny as far as I’m concerned, even the most serious things,” said Zwick, who shot to fame in the 1980s, when he and Herskovitz created a little show called “thirtysomething.”
There have been rumors of a reunion movie, ala the “Sex and the City” flicks, for years, but he insists there’s no validity to them. But then a smile crosses his face.
“If we were smart, we would do it because everybody seems to be making movies out of old television shows,” Zwick said. “But by the time we do it, we’d have to call it ‘sixtysomething.’”
Al Alexander may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.