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Student Review: Cassandra Anderson, PharmD Candidate 2014
Midwestern University College of Pharmacy-Glendale

Love and Other Drugs is a 2010 emotional comedy film loosely based on the book, Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy. Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a Pzifer pharmaceutical sales representative working under Bruce Winston (Oliver Platt), trying to sell Zoloft when Prozac is king. While trying to sway Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) to prescribe Zoloft, Jamie pretends to be a medical intern and encounters Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a patient with early onset Parkinson’s disease. Shortly after the appointment, Maggie is outraged to discover Jamie is a drug rep.  Undeterred by her disgust, he pursues Maggie and they begin to date. Jamie is assaulted by Trey Hannigan (Gabriel Macht), the top-selling Prozac rep, for throwing away Prozac samples and for dating Maggie.  After the assault, Jamie finds himself having an episode of erectile dysfunction where Maggie jokingly suggests he should use Pfizer’s newest drug, Viagra. Jamie convinces his boss to give him the Viagra account; the drug becomes an instant success and Jamie becomes the most popular drug rep in town. As his professional star rises, his relationship with Maggie intensifies. While attending a medical conference with Jamie, Maggie is invited to a counter-conference for patients where she meets other patients struggling with Parkinson’s and is invigorated by the experience as patients crack jokes, curse the difficulties of day-to-day tasks and share hope.  Jamie joins her one day and see the other side of the support group when a husband/caregiver tells him to escape while he can as “no one will tell you this disease will steal everything you love in her, her body, her smile, her mind.” Jamie goes from playboy to falling in love in Maggie and becomes obsessed with getting Maggie to the best neurologists and finding a cure. After Jamie has an angry outburst over a cancelled appointment, Maggie realizes they have different priorities regarding her health and breaks up with him. After a humorous experience with priapism, a promotion, and a pending move, Jamie realizes he loves Maggie. After tracking her down, Jamie convinces Maggie that he loves her and decides to not to take the promotion, begins attending medical school and stays with Maggie.

As Maggie is only stated to have Stage 1 early onset Parkinson’s, the symptoms she exhibits are accurate for the diagnosis, as are the medications she takes. Her depression is medicated with Prozac, but is obviously not under control. The presence of depression makes her character more realistic, as most patients with a serious degenerative disease are likely to face depression at some point over the course of their disease and treatment. For Parkinson’s disease especially, depression is well known as a common symptom and co-morbidity of the disorder.1

Throughout the course of the movie, we regularly see Maggie’s depression and shame over her diagnosis. Maggie at first appears very matter-of-fact about her diagnosis, yet her sardonic attitude and a prescription for Prozac highlight her underlying depression over “having a major degenerative disorder at 26.” During their first date, Jamie sees her resting tremor, but Maggie appears self-conscious and moves her hand out of sight. There are multiple instances of her tremor making an appearance and Maggie subsequently trying to emotionally distance herself. Maggie is averse to relationships and does not want Jamie to get attached, but when Jamie states that he likes her but is not asking her to marry him, it appears to strike a nerve and Maggie says she “wouldn’t want to be with someone who was sick either.” When Maggie finally agrees to try a relationship with him, she makes it clear she expects him to become frustrated and break up with her in the future.

Maggie’s depression becomes worse as her symptoms progress. Her work as a photographic artist becomes a struggle with her tremors. She runs out of medication and self-medicates with alcohol. Jamie comes home to find her drunk and morose, and she again asks why he wants to be with someone who is sick. When her inebriation causes Jamie to leave and her tremor causes her to break a glass, she breaks down screaming and crying. Maggie eventually tells Jamie he is the first person to make her feel like she is not alone and that she loves him. However, Maggie states that “Parkinson’s isn’t my life, I have Parkinson’s, why can’t I just live my life?” but also admits that she wants to get better “desperately. It’s not gonna happen. Newsflash, there’s no cure.” This is an accurate depiction of the ups and downs of life with Parkinson’s.

The film also features a strong theme of doctors’ and patients’ discontent with the medical establishment. When Maggie first finds out Jamie is a drug rep she rants about wanting someone from the medical community to apologize for treating her and others like non-people. Maggie is shown taking a bus of seniors to Canada for prescription medications, a silent critique of the high cost of prescription medications. The patients at the counter-conference express frustration with feeling marginalized in medicine. There are pointed conversations between Jamie and Dr. Knight that show the doctor as cold and uncaring, but later as simply overworked.

The heart of the film is a relationship between two people and how their insecurities and limitations impact that relationship, but there is great humor regarding the world of medicine and pharmaceuticals. There is a striking point about the need to remember that patients, and caregivers, are people. Dr. Knight’s character is also a vocal example of how the burdens of our system can turn caring doctors into automatons, an important reminder to pharmacists who get frustrated with seemingly unconcerned providers. While it is easy to say the film is a funny romantic movie about Parkinson’s, it makes several salient points and is well worth watching.

  1. Marsh L. Depression and Parkinson's disease: current knowledge. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2013;13(12):409.

Faculty Review: Mary K Gurney, PhD, RPh
Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice
Midwestern University College of Pharmacy – Glendale

Love and Other Drugs takes the viewer on two intertwined journeys of Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he falls in love and matures as a person. At the beginning of the movie we see Jamie using his good looks and charm to sell electronics to a variety of females young and old and then lose his job because he is having sex with the boss’s girlfriend (and fellow employee). Jamie then lands a job as a pharmaceutical drug sales representative for Pfizer, where his playboy ways and boyish charm seem to make him a perfect fit for the job. 

After “graduation” from training, Jamie is given Zithromax and Zoloft as his drugs to pitch in a lower tier market in the Midwest. At the beginning Jamie gets rebuffed by the staff at many of the doctor’s offices; Bruce (Oliver Platt) tells him if he can get Dr. Stan Knight (Hank Azaria) to prescribe Zoloft instead of Prozac, many of the other doctors will follow. Jamie uses his good looks, charm, and bribery to make inroads with Dr. Knight and his staff. This results in Jamie shadowing Dr. Knight for several days and his chance encounter with one of Dr. Knight’s new patients, Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a 26-year old with early onset Parkinson’s Disease. Maggie is an artist and waitress who is extremely independent and isn’t interested in any type of long-term relationship. 

Their relationship begins with a rocky start and both parties looking to keep it all about the sex.  Jamie has an episode of erectile dysfunction (ED) with Maggie and she proceeds to tell him about the new ED drug (Viagra) that Pfizer is coming out with. Jamie then successfully begs Bruce to be the drug rep for Viagra and gets it. Viagra becomes a blockbuster and in turn, Jamie becomes a top drug rep for Pzifer, still relying on his good looks, charm and playboy attitude. 

Jamie continues to pursue a relationship with Maggie, who wants nothing to do with commitments because of her Parkinson’s. To make his point he waits all night for her to return from a senior citizen drug purchasing bus trip to Canada. As they continue their relationship, Jamie starts to hyperventilate one night while trying to tell Maggie that he loves her.  He finally gets the words out and tells her that she is the very first person he has EVER told that to, including family. As their relationship is progressing, so too is her Parkinson’s, which she is not handling well and she tries to push Jamie away. Jamie is not giving up on her. 

After bringing Maggie with him to a medical conference in Chicago, she finds an alternative patient-focused conference where she finds other people like her with Parkinson’s who are continuing to live their lives. This gives Maggie hope and she invites Jamie to see what is going on. There, he meets members of a support group; one in particular is the husband of a wife with early onset Parkinson’s who tells him to escape now before he gets in too deep.  Jamie instead decides that he needs to find the best and brightest doctors to see what treatments are available for Maggie. In their search, Jamie has an emotional meltdown after they had traveled a distance to see a specialist and find out that they appointment has been reschedule for two weeks later and begins yelling at the receptionist. Maggie decides she isn’t having fun anymore and decides to break up with Jamie.

Several weeks later Jamie learns he has been promoted to the Chicago market. While packing his apartment, Jamie comes across a video he and Maggie made that makes him realize that he truly loves Maggie and wants to be with her. He then tracks her down on senior citizen drug purchasing bus trip and tells her that she makes him a better person and that he loves her and needs her. Maggie is concerned that she is going to need him more and can’t ask that of him.  Jamie’s reply is “You didn’t.” The movie ends with Jamie and Maggie living together, Jamie studying for medical school and his closing comment, talking about living every day to the fullest and how money isn't everything and you should follow your dreams.

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