Zwick aims for smart, funny romance in ‘Love & Other Drugs’

Director Edward Zwick, recently in San Francisco to promote “Love & Other Drugs,” slightly balks upon trying to identify one or two characteristics common to his varied films, which range from “About Last Night” to “Glory” to “The Last Samurai” to “Blood Diamond.”

He settles on “relationships” and “ideas,” calling “Love & Other Drugs,” which opens Wednesday, a movie that challenges the current Hollywood notion of a romantic comedy.

The fact that it’s complex, has a focus on raw sexuality, features a lead character with a degenerative disease and has humor at the same time is among the things that make it unique.

“I was determined to have it be funny and very serious, to have a balance of tone — both fun and intense,” says Zwick.

The movie, starring Anne Hathaway as a sassy, free-spirited artist with early onset Parkinson’s disease and Jake Gyllenhaal as charismatic, womanizing drug salesman, is set in the late 1990s, when the pharmaceutical industry was rocked by the introduction and takeoff of Viagra. It’s based in part on the book “Hard Sell” by Jamie Reidy, formerly a rising star at Pfizer, who describes in detail the sometimes crazy lengths to which drug companies go to sell their wares.

The firms’ real names are in the film, which doesn’t depict the industry and its cutthroat practices in the most positive light.

But Zwick says the filmmakers encountered no legal difficulties because the movie, which was filmed in and around Pittsburgh in just 49 days, on a modest $30 million budget, did “cleave close to the truth.”

While the idea of a “cure all” pill becoming so central in popular culture is an important aspect of the movie, it’s not the film’s primary point, according to Zwick, who favors the love story.

He was thrilled to work with, and “be mindful” of stars Gyllenhaal and Hathaway, whom he describes as “artistic, ambitious and earthy.”

He thinks audiences may be surprised by the couple’s verbal, as well as physical, chemistry, which he agrees has an appealing, smart Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn-like quality.

“This is why we used to go to the movies,” he says.

Zwick points out other classic examples such as “Shampoo” and “Broadcast News,” which cleverly address cultural issues in a way “Love & Other Drugs” does, and says of the romantic comedy: “This genre can still be vital.”

Feeling satisfied having had the opportunity to work on all kinds of projects all over the world, Zwick says he looks forward to continuing to make movies the way he’s done for decades. Never having made a horror movie, he says, “That would be fun.”

lkatz@sfexaminer.com

IF YOU GO

Love & Other Drugs

Starring Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad, Gabriel Macht

Written by Marshall Herskovitz, Charles Randolph, Jamie Reidy, Edward Zwick

Directed by Edward Zwick 

Rated R

Running time 1 hour 53 minutes 

Anne HathawayartsentertainmentJake GyllenhaalMovies

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