Friday, April 22, 2011

Love and Other Drugs -- empty sex

Director: Edward Zwick, 2010. (R)

Love and Other Drugs is billed as an unconventional romantic-comedy but is more of a sex romp with the occasional comic moment. There is so much skin shown, that it ultimately becomes offensive. What started as an interesting premise becomes a sad cliche-filled drug to avoid.

The premise, done before in Up in the Air, focuses on what happens when a superficial, sex-addicted man meets a woman like this and feelings get in the way. Or, as the tag-line questions, "Addicted to one-night stands or dependent on one another?"

The opening scene sets the tone. Jamie (Jake Gyllenhaal, Brothers), is a salesman in a Best Buy-like store. It is the mid-90s and boomboxes are in, cell phones are big (literally), and TVs are flat. He can sell anything to anyone, being full of charm and chatter. But his eyes are on the girls, including his coworkers. When his sexual liaison during a break is discovered, he is fired. Here are his values: empty sex and deep pockets. Greed and sex, the two vehicles that drive Madison Avenue and most of the American culture.

Getting a new job as a Pfizer pharmaceutical salesman, he is partnered with veteran manager Bruce (Oliver Platt). Together they call on Dr Stan Knight (Hank Azaria), a cynical GP who wants free samples and free sex. He is open to bribery, especially if it involves dinner, drinks and dessert of the feamle variety. Free drugs leading to free love. Eventually, Jamie sells Viagra and becomes the rep of choice by throwing samples out like candy, irresponsibly without caring.

When Jamie meets bohemian artist Maggie (Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married), one of Knight's patients, he wants her number. Their opening "date" in the coffee shop where she works to pay the rent. Her dialog is a mirror image of his: "You want to close right? You want to get laid?" He is surprised, "Now?" But she makes it clear what kind of girl she is,
Oh right, right, right. I'm supposed to act like I don't know if it's right. So then you tell me that there is no right or wrong. It's just the moment. And then I tell you that I can't while actually signalling to you that I can, which you don't need because you're not really listening. Because this isn't about connection for you. This isn't even about sex for you. This is about finding an hour or two of relief from the pain of being you. And that's fine with me, see, because all I want is the exact same thing.
She is single and easy, wanting sex without emotional engagement. Dessert without the dinner.

Here is where the film does hit a correct note. There are many like Jamie who look to sex as a way out of the pain of living. In many ways, sex is just like a drug. It satisfies temporarily without any entanglements but it also becomes addicting. But like a drug, sex used in this way is damaging, to the users. Sex was not meant to be so superficial.

As Jamie and Maggie enter into this extended series of one-night stands, it becomes clear that both are afraid of relationships. He is enamored with career success and money. She, on the other hand, has early on-set Parkinson's disease and does not want to let anyone come close. She is afraid of pity. Neither are prepared for commitments. But as things progress, feelings appear until the dreaded words "I love you" force their way from Jamie's lips. Love, not sex, has surfaced.

This is one of the fallacies of the film's ethics. Sex is never intended to be the relational vehicle to lead to love. Sex was designed to be a beautiful expression of love, and in God's original intention it is experienced within the boundaries of marriage (Gen. 2:24). When a man and a woman are joined in holy matrimony their wedding night should be the beginnings of this physical aspect of their relationship (Heb. 13:4). When this is taken in the wrong sequence, sex before marriage, the act is reduced from its holistic nature to something simply physical. It rarely leads to a marriage that lasts. After all, if it's OK to sleep around before forming a relationship, why not sleep around with others after marriage?

Love and Other Drugs has a solid cast, including the late Jane Clayburgh in her penultimate movie, as Jamie's mom, and George Segal as his dad. But it fails to use them effectively. Most of them seem to exist merely to hover around the two principal protagonists. Josh, the geeky chubby brother, is especially annoying, having little to do with the plot except to provide some comic relief and to counter Jamie's "growth" in love by showing his own awareness of empty sex.

Unless you have trouble sleeping and have run out of sleeping pills or other drugs, you should abstain from  Love and Other Drugs. Its excessive focus on sex is simply too hard to swallow. Just say no. Love is not a drug. It is the very foundation of human relationship and the essence of God (1 Jn. 4:16). There are no side-effects.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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