Saturday, July 23, 2011

Love and other drugs: a review, and bonus personal psychoanalysis


Part 1 of 3:

I am, currently, 2 minutes removed from watching Love and Other Drugs. I wish I could say I was watching it with someone I cared about, or maybe even with a group of friends on a comfy couch, but I'm not -- I'm sitting on my really hard, angular dorm room chair without a shirt on, air conditioning off. Actually, it's not such a big deal. One of the strengths of a romantic comedy (maybe for me at this point in my life) is that it's easy to get sucked into the storyline. All my attention is on the movie; as a result, it doesn't really matter what my actual surroundings are. It's not like eating alone, or having a drink alone, or walking down the street, activities all enhanced by the presence of another human being.

It was the best movie I've seen in a long, long time. I never thought I'd be reviewing a movie on this blog, or allotting any of my mental space towards popular media, like John Song usually does, but it's happening, and it's because I loved this movie.

I couldn't really -- and I don't really want to -- tell you why I loved it. There must be thousands of amateur bloggers online that will give you a review if you want to read one. I can tell you, though, that I wasn't planning to watch it at all. I had every intention of stopping if the first three minutes were boring, and I almost did; thankfully, the opening scene with Jake (that's Gyllenhaal) selling electronics and the rapid-fire banter at the dinner table hooked me. When I realized this was a modern romantic comedy (hook-ups, businessmen; pharmaceuticals; Parkinson's, entrepreneurship, sex tapes, game), I was sold.

I loved it because it felt modern. Anne (Hathaway) is a smart, incisive woman, penetrating and unforgiving. She tells it like it is, cuts through all the bullshit, and isn't afraid to let Jake know he is, deep down, a great guy. Jake, who has never cared about anybody or anything before Anne, transforms into the man she wants him to be.

There are also refreshing mentions of "the game" within the movie. At one point, Jake breaks down his skirt-chasing strategy to his boss: call a cute drug rep "Lisa," even though that's not her name. She'll eventually come over to correct him. When she does, he'll apologize and say she reminded her of an ex-girlfriend. She'll feel a need to win him over (mechanics are vague). Game, set, match. This, in a romantic comedy? That's cool.

The end of the movie doesn't seem overwrought, either. In the middle of the inevitable break-up between Jake and Anne, Jake has a threesome without any on-screen remorse. Even after the have-to-happen theatrics -- chasing after her, the Embrace -- the movie doesn't overreach to wrap up a happy ending: Anne doesn't miraculously get better, we don't see them getting married. It's the lack of forced sentimentality that makes me believe this movie could be the hidden history of anyone, even the couple I saw walking along the streets of New York yesterday.

In a great rom-com, I'm always left wondering, during the movie as well as afterwards, if love can actually be this perfect. In fact, immediately after watching this, I posted this question on Quora:

Is falling in love like what it's like in romantic comedies? 
I just watched Love and Other Drugs, and I'm wondering if this happens in real life, where you "can meet thousands of people who don't touch you -- and then you meet one." On a related note, what percentage of people are capable / actually find this?
I guess the question, if I could be more general, really is: can life ever be this perfect? I understand that movies are shot scene by scene; I'm obviously watching the best moments between Jake and Anne. Those moments, though, aren't overstated. They're of the two eating Chinese food; walking down the street in Chicago; sitting on her bed. And thinking back to my relationships, I've had similar moments that have meant the world to me at that moment, but now, thinking back, don't seem as reverent as the scenes I just watched.

When the screen went to black, I saw my own reflection in the computer screen. Needless to say, I don't look like Jake, and I'll probably never go out with anyone as attractive as Anne. The lifestyle both of them lead in the movie are out-of-bounds. If it's attractive, grade-A movie stars falling in this kind of love, what kind of love can regular people like me have? Is the best I can do to live vicariously through their romances? Is that why romantic comedies exist -- to let us know how great life could be, but never will be?

I got invited to my very first wedding a couple weeks back. The friend who invited me said the exact same thing as what Jake said in the movie: "You won't know what it feels like to meet the one, until, of course, you do. And then you know." I want to believe this so badly. To a certain extent, I do. But then I walk outside on my street in New York and see all these women and men dressed up in short skirts and expensive jackets, with mascara and cologne, walking from one dead-end bar to another, and in this environment I'm drawn to believe that life isn't about romantic comedy love -- that it's more about missed opportunities, unrequited love, and the human condition to find happiness in a less-than-ideal situation. That it's more about wasting time on Gmail and watching romantic comedies than it is sneaking into doctor's offices to introduce yourself to the woman you're going to marry. That love first blossoms viewing the profile of a 22/f/san francisco than in a chance encounter on the street. It's a sour, somber thought, and one that definitely wouldn't be happening if I was out in the wilderness of Utah or busy immersed in my work at a hedge fund, but, nevertheless, might be true. I'm not sure what to believe.

If you're a regular reader of the blog, or know me, you've heard this sappiness before. I'm a sucker for the Korean drama. Now, I realize that it might be because I'm scared that, in my own life, I'll never have the happy ending that Love and Other Drugs implies will, and should, happen.

P.S. Read John Song's response to this post here; and my response to his response here. It's like a trilogy!

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