Saturday, November 3, 2007

Days of Wine and Roses

I often have a problem watching films about addiction and recovery. Even in the best ones there seems to be some sort of artificiality I can not get past. In The Days of Wine and Roses Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick are great, but there comes a point in the film where it gets preachy and we can see the ending coming 45 minutes in advance. Worse, to me, is Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. Milland set the standard for the bad drunk, but the D.T. scene is laughable- did they spend any money on that fake bat attack? Yet, the film won Oscars and for years was the touchstone for films about alcoholism.

Films just about addiction are no good. I like Leaving Las Vegas and really appreciate the director Mike Figgis, but I don't need to see Nicolas Cage drink himself to death. I get it already. The typical film is this: I am a junkie, it's fun for a while, it gets out of control, I leave a wake of destruction- physical and emotional- in my path, then I die miserably. In other words see Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, ad. nausea.

Films just about recovery are perhaps worse because we see none of the fun and we get preached at for two hours. These films actually make me want to drink. More. Right there in the theater. Where is the Martini concession? Is there a Pinot Noir vendor anywhere?

Take a pass on Clean and Sober (though I like Michael Keaton) and especially When a Man Loves a Woman a Meg Ryan/Andy Garcia film. A good idea by Al Franken gone bad through a series of unfortunate filmmaking events. (No one knew the film they were trying to make.) A far superior film written by the same Al Franken is Stuart Saves His Family. Franken knows something about alcoholic families and co-dependency and Stuart is a surprisingly nice film.

All of this brings me to two films I saw recently that have a different take on addiction and recovery, but to me were maybe the most valid of all the films. Interestingly they both deal with killers, but in very different ways.
You Kill Me stars the always terrific Ben Kingsley as a hit man for the Buffalo, NY Polish mob who is sent to San Francisco to dry out. In S.F. he gets a job in a funeral home, where he meets Tea Leoni (who also produced the film. I wonder what attracted her to the material?) and goes to A.A. He gets a sponsor and gets his life together. There are several scenes in the A.A. meeting and several more with his sponsor, Luke Wilson. Though it is a dark comedy it touches on issues about addiction and recovery that those other films don't.

The other film is Mr. Brooks starring Kevin Costner and William Hurt. Costner is Mr. Brooks, Portland, Oregon's man of the year and a serial killer. (Where do they come up with these ideas?) He wants to stop killing but his alter ego, William Hurt, won't let him. He goes to A.A. meetings where all he says is that he is an addict and leaves it at that.

The thing that struck me about both these films is the power of the anonymous group and how people could sit and talk or not, but it was clear recovery was a process they were all going through. Very interesting, though a little thin on the fake bat attack scenes.

Peter H

1 comment:

Theresa111 said...

I totally agree with your take on these films, Peter. Although I did not see the Tea Leoni film, I did sit enthralled throughout the entire Mr. Brooks film. That is one I'll be buying.

Hope all is going well for you in the windy city. Cheers.