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Hanging on the telephone: Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs.

Prescription for Romance

By Ann Morrow

Love and Other Drugs

Directed by Edward Zwick

 

Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is living the high life as a drug rep, and doing so advantageously: His flamboyant womanizing is good for business since receptionists enjoy his come-ons and doctors get a vicarious thrill out of his hedonism. Some of his techniques are so believably outrageous that it’s no surprise that Love and Other Drugs is based on a memoir, the comic revelations of Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy. But Love has another character that is not from the memoir: Maggie (Anne Hathaway), a beautiful bohemian who has early-onset Parkinson’s. Jamie and Maggie meet not-so-cute in the office of Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) when Jamie poses as an intern to watch Maggie take her shirt off. The combination of a slick comedy on pharmaceutical profiteering with a beautiful-dying-girl-in-love plot may sound reprehensible, and at times, it is—but these times are either very funny or touchingly honest. Directed by Edward Zwick (The Last Samurai, Blood Diamond), with a lighter, defter touch than usual, Love manages to mine the absurdity of an ambitious, ridiculously attractive con man running heedlessly into (and hopelessly falling for) a rebellious, ridiculously attractive activist. There’s not a single cloying moment.

After her anger subsides, Maggie agrees to a date with Jamie because a man who is incapable of commitment seems just right for someone like her, who lives with the fear of becoming disabled. Aside from wanting to score with a gorgeous girl, Jamie wants to date Maggie for her long list of doctor contacts. In an incisive, first-date conversation, Maggie explains to Jake that what he really wants are a couple of hours of escapism from “you being you”—and so does she. After ripping each other’s clothes off (their intimacy is a little more explicit than expected, but considering the personalities—and physiques—of the characters, it works), they both agree that Jamie is a shithead.

It may be the first time in rom-com history that a description of “shithead” actually propels a romance. For a romance does kindle between them, as the film successfully navigates the difficult realties of a couple contending with very different and seemingly intractable problems. Even if Jamie wasn’t a womanizer, the temptations presented by his job—he’s required to show medical professionals a really good time—would be problematic. The film does not shy away from this, showing Jamie at a conference getting hit on by two beauties, and being suddenly reluctant to take Maggie’s phone call. Maggie is at a conference, too, a support group for people with Parkinson’s.

The film also recalls the recent greed decade—specifically, those years when prescription drugs were the hottest commodity—without feeling dated. The sharp script is aided and abetted by the excellent acting, including Azaria’s small gem of an appearance, Josh Gad’s mewling as Jamie’s newly divorced brother, and Hathaway’s best performance yet.

 

Cowboys and Ninjas

The Warrior’s Way

Directed by Sngmoo Lee

Asian superstar Jang Dong-gun is the warrior who finds his way to a new life in The Warrior’s Way, an East-meets-(the Wild) West fantasy in which a phalanx of phantom Ninjas rise out of the sea, a rogue cavalry rides the high plains to rape, pillage, and plunder, and circus clowns learn to defend their big top. With its balletic, inventive action sequences, lusciously airbrushed visuals, and unlikely but absurdly likeable characters—plus an eminently hissable villain—the action-adventure delights of The Warrior’s Way can be viewed as the season’s cinematic sugarplum. Correction, make that the season’s cherry blossom, since a flower petal plays a symbolic role in the warrior’s change of direction.

Yang (Dong-gun) has been trained since childhood to be an assassin, and in the film’s opening, he destroys an entire clan, on the orders of his cruelly regimental mentor (Lung Ti). Almost the entire clan, that is, because when their infant princess smiles at him, Yang finds he cannot execute her, and instead, escapes aboard a frigate bound for America. Matinee-idol handsome, Korean Dong-gun (The Promise) learned martial arts relatively late, and in most of his fighting sequences, he appears more like a dancer, albeit one whose favorite partner is a katana. Combined with strategically slowed choreography, the fight scenes take on a mystical ambience that will later cross the Pacific as Yang’s clan follows in pursuit of the princess.

Yang travels to the western frontier, where he finds his only contact, the operator of a Chinese laundry, has died. Indeed, the town, Lode (the “Mother” part apparently having been dropped when its gold rush turned into a trickle), has gone from boom to bust, and only its most eccentric residents remain, mostly the circus workers whose circus lost its audience before the Ferris wheel was finished. But in this ghost town (where the ghosts are mostly murder victims), Yang finds happiness. He learns to do laundry from Lynne (Kate Bosworth), an Annie Oakley-type tomboy who aspires to be a knife thrower rather than a gunslinger. Needless to say, she finds the perfect dagger instructor in Yang. The comical contrast between strong, silent Yang and colloquially loquacious Lynne later becomes more poignant when her tragic past at the hands of America’s version of trained assassins is revealed.

Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Sngmoo Lee, a Korean film professor, The Warrior’s Way manages to make its mashup of classic westerns and arty Kung Fu films seem fresh and relevant. A cavalry colonel-gone-bad (a delectably versatile Danny Huston) calls Lynne “little girl,” underscoring the vulnerability of women in both cultures. Though The Warrior’s Way earns a solemn bow of the head for its gently gender-bending subtext, along with its tastefully gory revenge theme, its real currency lies in its marvelously entertaining set pieces. These include a showdown with the aforementioned Ninjas, who float through the air like a Kabuki nightmare; the sudden intrusion of a Gatlin gun orchestrated like a drum solo in a symphony of swordplay; or the increasingly less-sodden appearances of Ron (Geoffrey Rush), the town drunk, who insouciantly retrieves a shot of whiskey off the head of a clown who is being used for target practice by the sadistic cavalry officers, and then precedes to steal every scene he’s in. Adding to the stylishness of the film’s mythical culture clash is the costume design from three-time Oscar winner James Acheson, who can now include a chop-sockie romance on his impressive resume.

—Ann Morrow



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