“Love And Other Drugs” & “Life As We Know It”
 
Here are two romantic comedies who both play by the old formula, but each with its own twist.  The tried-and-true plot is always:  boy meets girl, boy and girl hate each other, circumstances change and boy and girl start liking each other, some catastrophe happens and boy and girl break up, then boy and girl make up and live happily ever after.
The difference between these two films is the tone:  one is edgy, racy, almost desperate in its passionate longing; the two characters trying very hard not to acknowledge the roaring inferno of the magnitude of their feelings for each other.  In the other, the two have close mutual friends, but don’t care for each other at all, and spend the whole time seeing if they can possibly strike a spark somewhere, without it sputtering away into indifference.
            In “Love And Other Drugs,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jamie, who begins as a charming, successful television salesman who beguiles the boss’ girlfriend right into a tryst in the storeroom, and he is summarily dismissed.  His father and his sister are physicians, so he’s always been around the medical table talk, so pharmaceutical sales seem a natural fit for him.  It helps immensely that this is 1996, when a little blue pill called Viagra first hit the market.  He meets Maggie (Anne Hathaway) by misrepresenting himself as a medical intern, so they have a very rocky start.  But the personal attraction is undeniable.  She says she’s not interested in a relationship, only in brief physical liaisons, where she calls him on his pager, and he comes running.  He says that works for him, too.  It turns out the reason she won’t allow herself to become emotionally available is because she has Parkinson’s disease, Stage One, which is degenerative, and for which there is no known cure.  She does not wish to be “the sickie” in any relationship, and doesn’t want anyone’s pity.  He obviously enjoys both the easy access and the personal freedom, the classic having your cake and eating it, too.  Except that despite himself, he does long for emotional intimacy, and so does she, so we all know where there is headed:  they fall in love with each other despite their best efforts not to do so.
            In “Life As We Know It,” Katherine Heigl plays Holly, whose best friend is married to the best friend of Eric Messer, played by Josh Duhamel.  Holly and “Messer” were set up on a blind date by their respective best friends, but it was a disaster, so they have just endured each other during the wedding, the reception, the baby shower, and the occasional visits where they are both present.  They hiss and snarl at each other like rival siblings.  But when their best friends suddenly die in a car wreck (mercifully not shown on the screen), Holly and Messer discover that they’ve been named joint guardians of Sophie, the baby.  They don’t know anything about babies, neither has ever been married, and both have successful careers that they have no intention of giving up.  And yet, their attempts to place the baby with other members of the family convince them why their friends named them in the first place.  There just isn’t anybody else.  And so they reluctantly begin setting up house together in kind of the worst of all worlds:  they’re living together but they can’t stand being around each other, and trying to learn to care for a baby together who’s not theirs.  But we all know where this is headed, also:  they begin to care for one another, despite themselves.  But in this modern twist on the ancient practice of arranged marriage, can they make it work in a feel-good cultural environment that makes it so easy to quit any time either party feels like it?
            “Love And Other Drugs” features much more nudity, explicit lovemaking scenes, and crude sexual humor.  “Life As We Know It’ goes with the childish potty humor, the parody of enduring tedious neighbors who are classic suburban busybodies, and standard sitcom irony:  he loves sports, she loves cooking, the baby likes watching The Wiggles.  “Life” is tame and bland and silly and it has holes in the plot, but it’s cute and harmless.  “Love” is tougher, meaner, harder-edged, and packs much more of an emotional wallop.  Anne Hathaway just might receive some Oscar recognition for her nakedly vulnerable performance.  “Love” and “Life” are both romantic comedies, but with entirely different tones, and appealing to entirely different tastes.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas