Oscar Moment: “Love & Other Drugs”

2 11 2010

“Love & Other Drugs” was chosen to open the AFI Fest this week, and I couldn’t think of a better time to discuss this interesting player in the 2010 awards race.

Comedies are always a wild card with the Oscars; sometimes they hit, others they flop.  Over the past decade, there have been eight Best Picture nominees that would fall into the comedic category at the Golden Globes (NOTE: I excluded musicals).  The last comedy to win Best Picture was 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” which is a romantic comedy not unlike “Love & Other Drugs.”

On the other hand, that movie was a period piece, an aspect that tickles Academy fancies more than the romantic comedy side.  Since 1998, no romantic comedy has been nominated for Best Picture, so “Love & Other Drugs” does face an uphill battle.  However, because of the expanded field, our only frame of reference with complete relevance to the movie is the 2009 Best Picture race.  Last year, popular romantic comedies “(500) Days of Summer” and “It’s Complicated” received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture but failed to receive similar acclaim from the Academy.  Replacing them were darkly comedic “A Serious Man” and animated “Up,” ineligible for the award at the Globes.

So are we looking at a movie that has no power to extend its reach beyond the Golden Globes?  Based on initial critical reaction, that may be the scenario.  The Hollywood Reporter‘s Kirk Honeycutt calls it a melodrama and shockingly conventional romance with “ADD like you wouldn’t believe.”  Todd McCarthy of IndieWIRE writes that it’s “an enormously contrived and cloying romantic drama without a moment of believable reality to it.”  Kris Tapley at In Contention wrote the line that I found most discouraging: “it could have been this year’s ‘Up in the Air.’”

The movie is apparently charged with nudity that Variety‘s Justin Chang called “abundant” and sexuality that Honeycutt proclaimed “unusually bold.”  This could be off-putting to some of the older voters; however, it could pique curiosity among younger viewers and make it a box office hit.  If it does become a serious contender, expect much talk on the nudity/sexuality to surround any discussion of the film.

Not all see “Love & Other Drugs” as a lost cause.  Guru Dave Karger of Entertainment Weekly is on the movie’s side, writing back in October that “the Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway comedic drama reminds me a lot of Up in the Air and Jerry Maguire (both past Best Picture nominees). And it’s perhaps the sexiest movie I’ve seen in years. It won’t be for everyone, but if most critics go for its blend of titillation and tragedy, then it’s a contender for one of the five ‘B-list slots.’”  Karger also listed it among his 10 best picture predictions (albeit last).

I could see it filling out one of those last slots, although until the film’s release, I won’t be able to say how much a nomination would surprise me.  Something tells me though that we won’t be looking at many other nominations for the movie, though.  Even though Anne Thompson of IndieWIRE wrote “writer-director Zwick has done what I have long wanted him to do—get into the James L. Brooks/Nancy Meyers smart comedy mode,” I have a hard time seeing him finding room in the Best Director field.

As Univarn wrote on my latest predictions, “you have a lot of directors who have been very good for a long time all coming into their own right now.”  Zwick has been directing many seemingly Academy friendly movies like “Glory” and “Blood Diamond” but has never been recognized for his directorial prowess.  (Interestingly enough, he won an Oscar for producing “Shakespeare in Love” and was nominated for producing “Traffic” in 2000.)

Zwick co-wrote the movie as well, but a tight Adapted Screenplay race with such heavyweights as “The Social Network” and “Toy Story 3” may keep his work out there as well.  In my mind, the movie’s best bet is in the acting categories.  It seems to be the one exemplary aspect of the movie that all critics agree on.  Said Honeycutt, “Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are terrific as two sarcastic, sexually hungry young people eager to hop into bed, or go up against the nearest wall for a knee-trembler.”

Both sub-30 actors have been nominated for Oscars before: Gyllenhaal for Supporting Actor in 2005 for “Brokeback Mountain” and Hathaway for Leading Actress in 2008 for “Rachel Getting Married.”  They are reaching the age of anointment quickly, and it’s only a matter of time before the Academy just caves and gives them the trophy.  Whether it will be for “Love & Other Drugs” is the question.

Let’s start with Gyllenhaal, the film’s leading man.  Since his nomination, he has only starred in four movies, three of which were Oscar also-rans and the other a Hollywood swords-and-sandals epic flop.  Gyllenhaal has gotten many raves for his latest role, ranging from Tapley and Thompson calling him the best performance in the film to Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells dubbing this “his most winning performance ever – not the deepest or darkest or saddest, perhaps, but 100% likable.”  He’s facing a tough Best Actor field with the likes of Colin Firth, Jeff Bridges, and Robert Duvall as well as fellow Gen-Y actors James Franco, Ryan Gosling, and Jesse Eisenberg.  If his performance is light as Wells alludes to, it may not be anything more than a Golden Globes play.

The more intriguing prospect for the movie is no doubt Anne Hathaway playing Maggie, the Parkinson’s-affected love interest of Gyllenhaal’s slick pharmaceutical salesman.  She has the more dramatically appealing and Academy friendly role, and the difficulty of tackling such a role will surely keep her in discussion all season long.  In the past decade, Academy Award nominees for Best Actress have included drug addicts, Alzheimer’s patients, a depressed writer, a psychotic killer, a paralyzed fighter, and an alcoholic.  Whatever physical condition causes leading women to ail, the Oscars have been there to reward them.

Zwick calls her “in bloom” in “Love & Other Drugs,” and early reviews seem to be in accord.  Chang calls her performance sensitive and understated, also adding that “the actress makes Maggie a vivacious presence, the sheer force of her spirit serving as a rebuke to her physical setbacks.”  Wells calls it her most appealing performance yet, praising Hathaway in writing “you can read every emotional tick and tremor on her face.”  However, the movie’s critical struggle could harm her; Tapley points out  that Hathaway plays a “one-trick, woe is me character who never finds a genuine end to her arc.”

There are plenty of great comedies made every year, many better than some of the dramas that typically make their way into the Best Picture field.  Here’s to hoping that “Love & Other Drugs” has the goods to bring glory to the genre at the Academy Awards.


OTHER POSSIBLE NOMINATIONS: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay



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