‘My Boyfriend’s Meds’: Jaime Camil and Sandra Echeverría Talk Using Comedy to Explore Mental Illness
Humor is used to explore mental illness in “My Boyfriend’s Meds” (“Las Pildoras De Mi Novio”), a cross-cultural romantic comedy that follows Jess (Sandra Echeverría), a Mexican-American woman who works as a marketing executive at a global tequila company in San Francisco. She has not found the fulfillment she desires in her personal life that she has in her professional one, but that seems to change after a mishap involving falling asleep in her water bed while smoking a joint leads her to irresistible mattress store-owner Hank (Jaime Camil).
Sexy, fun and charming, Jess believes that she has found the perfect man in Hank, and he might be that, except for the fact that he is struggling with various mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder and Tourette Syndrome. Thanks to a cocktail of drugs and support from his therapist, Dr. Sternbach (Jason Alexander), Hank is able to live a normal life. However, after a whirlwind courtship of only a few days, Jess invites Hank along with her to a work retreat to a remote island, and what is meant to be a productive and relaxing vacation turns into something else after Hank discovers that he has left his meds at home. As he keeps this from Jess, she struggles to make sense of her new man’s strange behavior while also dealing with pressure to impress her boss.
“My Boyfriend’s Meds” was helmed by Argentinian director Diego Kaplan, who crafted the screenplay along with Gary Marks and “Mrs. Doubtfire” scribe Randi Mayem Singer. The team behind the film was a major draw for both Camil and Echeverría, as was the way the script uses comedy to explore mental illness without being insensitive to what Hank is going through.
“I think comedy is a very powerful tool to get a message across,” Camil, who is best known in the U.S. for playing Gina Rodriguez’s telenovela star father on “Jane the Virgin,” told Entertainment Voice. He pointed to “Life is Beautiful” as a great example of a film that used humor to explore heavier themes.
Camil went onto explain why it was important for him to do his own research on mental illness in order to play Hank. “I didn’t want the character to be shallow, so I talked to people who suffered from bipolar [disorder] and who are schizophrenics, and I was like, ‘Tell me about it. How do you feel? How are your episodes?’”
At times, Hank’s struggle is written all over his face and he can barely keep it together. However, in the first part of the trip, when he’s in a manic upswing, he’s seen as the life of the party, winning over Jess’ coworkers with his big personality. Her association with Hank puts Jess in a new light with these people, to whom she is trying to prove that she’s the person to spearhead a new campaign. Her main obstacle up until the trip is that the higher-ups do not see her as having a “tequila” personality. If she were a drink, she’d be banana juice, according to one boss.
“I think they think of Jess as a banana smoothie because she’s such a nerd,” explained Echeverría to EV. “She’s just such a geek, and she never really goes out and has a social life. She wants to be tequila, because she thinks as tequila she’s going to be way more fun. Maybe she thinks she’ll have more mojo or something [laughs]. It’s the truth.”
Hank, meanwhile, has plenty of mojo for the both of them, especially in a scene in which the group is tasting different tequilas and yelling out their impressions. In the throes of a Tourette outburst, he yells out some things that are, while outlandish, not completely off the mark when it comes to alcohol branding. According to Echeverría, Kaplan came up with things for Camil to shout on the spot. “I think the hardest part was to keep a straight face during that,” she admitted
“Right there he is at the peak of being euphoric and ecstatic,” said Camil of the scene. “And after that, comes the downfall. It was very interesting to do the dramatic curve of this character throughout the movie.”
Camil’s performance becomes something of a tour de force as the darkness starts to close in on Hank. As the resort has no cell service or internet, his only link to the outside world is a landline, which he uses to call Dr. Sternbach. Alexander, who is best known for playing the neurotic George Constanza on “Seinfeld,” is amusing as the straight man, a more grounded character than what he usually plays.
Jess, meanwhile, has more relatable problems, as she deals with being undervalued at work and her struggle to have a lasting relationship. Although she is now happily married, Echeverría can relate to what Jess goes through.
“It took me awhile to find my husband. I think that everyday it is getting more complicated to find the perfect guy,” she said. “I think this is the portrait of the independent woman who is very happy in her professional life, but she’s very empty in her personal life and she can’t find the perfect guy.”
In addition to Alexander, the cast also includes another well-known American actor, Brooke Shields. As Shields is mostly known for the dramas she starred in as a child and young adult, people sometimes forget that she also has a knack for comedy. Here, she has a lot of fun as an over-the-top new age resort employee who leads the group in various activities and trust exercises.
“She’s amazing,” said Echeverría of Shields. “She’s so, so humble. When you meet people like her, you realize that the biggest people are the most humble ones. She was so amazing to everyone, very [accessible].”
“My Boyfriend’s Meds” is the latest film from Pantelion Films, an American production company that produces movies that cater to a growing audience that speaks both Spanish and English, while still telling stories that have broader appeal.
“That’s our life here. It’s not a big deal,” said Camil when asked about speaking both Spanish and English in the film. “When you talk to your peeps that are from Latin America, you talk to them in Spanish, then you turn to your American friends and talk to them in English. It’s normal and it’s the formula that Pantelion has been doing lately with Eugenio Derbez’s films, with Omar Chaparro’s films, in which [they speak] seventy percent in Spanish, thirty percent in English, and that’s just how life is for us who live in the U.S.”
In the end, it is the hope of both Camil and Echeverría that viewers come away from “My Boyfriend’s Meds” encouraged to speak more openly about mental illness and treatment.
“I got really emotional, because I think we all have someone who has mental conditions in our lives. Those people struggle so, so much. I could feel the pain that Hank was feeling,” said Echeverría. “Accept people how they are, love them how they are, and just support them. We’re not perfect; nobody’s perfect; we all have our flaws. If you love someone, you have to be willing to work it out.”
“My Boyfriend’s Meds” opens Feb. 21 in select theaters.