Lately (for the last five years LOL) I’ve been on a rant about the necessity of making characters in books and movies likable first and flawed second. Apparently authors really love to write rotten-to-the-core protagonists in order to show an extreme character arc by the end of a book or movie. This makes me either not finish the book and throw it across the room, or stop the movie and exclaim – why do I care?
Case in point – this weekend my husband and I watched Love and Other Drugs, a movie from 2010 starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The movie blurb sounded good, so we gave it a shot. Fail! Oh, big time. The movie was based on a non-fiction book which took place in the late 1990s called HARD SELL: THE EVOLUTION OF A VIAGRA SALESMAN by Jamie Reidy. I have not read the book, but from the movie I can tell it was a gritty read with the key word in the title being EVOLUTION. This gave me hope.
The protagonist, Jamie, was monumentally promiscuous (every guys’ dream, I guess) and long before we see any hint of humanity in the main character, he’s gotten fired for having sex with his boss’ girlfriend ON THE JOB, and while seeking employment only seems to want to score with more and more women. Can you say UN-sympathetic? Really, who cares about this kind of guy? Turns out this Jamie guy has ADHD, comes from a high achieving family, and had to drop out of medical school because of his condition. Instead of fighting for his honor by using his intelligence which he clearly has, he decides to manipulate as many people as possible in his path to reach his goal of becoming a drug representative.
Enter the tragic Maggie, diagnosed with Stage I Parkinson’s. This is certainly a difficult condition to deal with at the tender age of twenty-six, and believe me, I had sympathy for her, but not the way the character was introduced. Right off we see a tough chick, flicking money at a sleazy doc (All the characters seemed clueless and soulless in the film/book and painted a sad world in which Jamie must have lived) because her apartment had been broken into and her medicine supply had been stolen. Oh, and a gratuitous moment occurs where Jamie and the sleazy doc get to look at her breast. There were many such moments in this movie.
Later, much, much later, in the film, after Jamie and Maggie have hormonally found each other and there’s this supposedly cute thing about Jamie answering Maggie’s beeps for quick and dirty sex whenever and wherever—yeah, I’d want to work around this girl reeking of fresh sex while on the job—I know every guy’s dream in the don’t-judge crowd, right?—there is a very poignant scene where we see the extent of chaos and fear that the Parkinson’s has on Maggie. She looks in the mirror and tries to pour out her meds into uncooperative trembling hands. This scene could have been played out much earlier in the film and would have turned my feelings around for this character right off, but the author stuck with the tough chick dealing with her sucky lot in life approach.
As we see Jamie rise to the occasion (evolving) to finally be a stand-up guy, we first have to suffer through more sex party scenes and more sad and clueless people lost to wisdom in life, as though the only reason we were put on this earth was to be promiscuous. It’s hard to sit through, but finally Jamie becomes a man. A real man, not an oversexed juvenile. He falls in love with Maggie with her bigger than life illness and promises to be there for her through everything life has in store for them. Of course hardened Maggie fights him, but he wins.
This movie was listed as a romantic comedy, which raised expectations for me that the movie-makers failed to deliver, therefore the comedy for this viewer fell far short—I’m old and don’t get a lot of the stuff the millennials think is funny i.e. Josh Gad. But hey, there were lots of naked scenes with Jake G. and Anne H., so these days I guess that passes for romance?
So back to my ongoing rant about the need to show characters in a sympathetic light, the humanity we all share, not the lowest common denominator of mankind (butt-heads in general). If we show the universal situations we all have in common, then slip in the flaws, our readers/viewers will understand and just might stick around for the rest of the story.
Critical ratings at the time of release for this film: 2-3 stars, so I guess most people felt similar to my reaction. Meh. Something (the good side of humanity) was lacking, until far too late into the film.
Anyone see the movie? Did you like it? Hate it? Sit through the whole thing?