Tag Archives: addictions

Yes

Patrick Nolan (Tim Realbuto) is a washed up former child actor, tainted by scandal, all but forgotten by Hollywood, addicted to any kind of numbing he can find, scraping by as an acting coach to teenage hopefuls.

He attends a high school staging of Romeo + Juliet starring his protégé and niece. He’s not sober and she’s not good, but Jeremiah (Nolan Gould), the young man playing Romeo, catches his eye, and Patrick reaches out to take him under his wing. Everyone knows about Patrick, or think they know, about the ‘perversion’ for which he was charged but never convicted, but Jeremiah meets with him anyway, anxious to hone his new craft.

Patrick’s technique may seem unorthodox to you and I, but he believes that all acting comes from a place of pain, and his lessons revolve around eliciting Jeremiah’s pain. It’s something they have in common, their tortured pasts, their private pain. Patrick is never sober, not even close, but he’s also never intoxicated enough to shake the memories that haunt him. Jeremiah’s is too young to know how to handle a profoundly depressed teacher, or the mentorship that transforms into something rather more intimate and intense.

Tim Realbuto is strangely at home in the skin of a man clearly on the brink of personal apocalypse, as he should be, having written and performed the play off-Broadway. Patrick is a portrait of barely suppressed rage, a hopeless heap of man who doesn’t believe in salvation. He dreams of the actress who played his mother on screen, and imagines her giving him the mothering he needed but never received. Gould’s portrayal is mature and nuanced, playing Jeremiah as slightly less innocent as he seems. Together, the two navigate a relationship that teeters on the fine line of inappropriate, Patrick’s disgrace so palpable it’s a third character in the room. Rob Margolies’ confident direction moves the story from stage to cinema seamlessly, soundly avoiding the temptation to over-produce.

The result is a slow build toward a well-earned finale, two restrained performances each deeply felt in different ways, and an ending that gnaws at the heart.

Cracked Up

Darrell Hammond will go down in history as one of the greatest SNL cast members of all time – and he was the longest-tenured until Keenan Thompson unseated him recently. Both are alike in that they were never the show’s breakout stars, but their supportive performances aren’t just crucial, they are in fact the glue that makes it possible for the cast to coagulate at all. Darrell Hammond is a master impressionist and holds the record for doing the most on SNL – 105 – among them, rather famously,  Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Chris Matthews, Sean Connery, and Regis Philbin.

But while Hammond was making America giggle, in private he was battling debilitating flashbacks of childhood trauma; addiction and self-injury served as coping mechanisms until it all inevitably came crumbling down. It took 50 years for a doctor to diagnose his pain correctly, unleashing the painful memories his mind couldn’t bear to address.

He wrote about this in his autobiography and he shares further in director Michelle Esrick’s documentary, which can be found on Netflix. I hope he has some appreciation for how profoundly talking so openly about these things can impact not just an audience but indeed a culture. There is power in owning your story and understanding that any associated shame is not yours: is not the victim’s, but the perpetrator’s.

Childhood trauma is a far-reaching poison. Hammond, of course, has had the privilege and the resources to pay it the kind of attention necessary for taming it. Healing may be a lifelong journey, but it’s clear Hammond has found a healthier head space and a new appreciation for and ability to celebrate the good things in his life.

The Way Back

Jack (Ben Affleck) is a middle-aged man sleepwalking through his life, completely numb. Once a high school basketball phenom, he’s now working a shit job, drinking constantly, isolated from his family and friends, separated from his wife. His life is sad and stuck.

So I suppose Father Devine considers it a kindness to reach out with an opportunity. Jack’s alma matter is short of a basketball coach, and his glory days have not been forgotten (nor have they been repeated in the 25+ years since he left, but that’s another story). Jack tries out many refusals before grudgingly accepting, a win that is celebrated only briefly as the catholic school soon realizes that Jack is perhaps not an ideal role model, screaming and cursing his way through games.

Still, Jack seems to come out of his shell bit by bit, as his drills start paying off and his severely losing team becomes a moderately winning one. But alcoholism is a disease with deep roots, and Jack has more skeletons in his closet than we’d previously imagined.

The Way Back is a story about suffering. It’s not about redemption, but maybe just that very small first step, the most important one, the one that feels awful and aching and may or may not lead to success. The way back for alcoholics is much more complicated than most movies can show. Healing is not linear. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. And getting sober is not a cure – not a cure for the suffering, and not a cure for the alcoholism either. Ben Affleck knows this better than most. He’s struggled with addiction himself. He’s been in and out of rehab more than once or twice. He’s seen it wreck relationships, including his marriage to Jennifer Garner. I don’t know Ben Affleck. I don’t know if he drank to ease the pain or if addiction was just in his genes. Many people who have alcoholism in the family will never succumb themselves. Some will suffer a catalyst, an event in their lives that leads to drinking. Many of us go through these hard times, but someone with a predilection for addiction won’t be able to start. I think for many celebrities, the lifestyle itself is a trigger. it can mean a lot of events, a lot of parties, and a lot of free drinks. People in the throes of addiction will do anything to feed it, including stealing from their dear sweet grandmothers or selling their own bodies. Celebrities don’t have to do this of course. Money is no object so they have no real obstacle to their using. In fact, they probably have many enablers, covering for their absences, making excuses, managing the bumps and bruises. It’s probably difficult for a celebrity to see their addiction because that’s usually done when “hitting bottom” but when you have millions of dollars and personal assistants, they form a very large cushion that keeps you from really going splat. Of course, when you have unending access to your drug of choice, you’re also at risk for a very sad death. We’ve seen those happen to many times, proving money can’t insulate you from everything.

So when you put someone like Ben Affleck in this role, you’re sending a message. Affleck carries a heaviness, a darkness within him. His anguish in this movie is real, and I can only hope it was some sort of exorcism for him. His performance has depth and authenticity, and though the story sometimes dips too far into sports movie cliche to be satisfying or worthy, Affleck more than makes up for it.

The Great Gatsby

Nick Carraway meant to be a writer but is lured by the temptation of easy money to New York City for work, and a shack to stay in outside the city, on Long Island. He’s sandwiched between mansions, and across the bay dwells the old money, including his cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. But everyone’s gossiping about Nick’s mysterious neighbour, Jay Gatsby.

There’s almost no one more suited to the decadence of The Great Gatsby than director Baz Luhrmann. Certainly Gatsby’s epic parties, brimming with booze, booming music, and beaded dresses, are brought to life with enthusiasm and an orgasmic level of detail under his direction.

But F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel isn’t just about the excess, but its flip side as well, the roaring/rotten 20s, the social upheaval and the resistance to change. But maybe a novel as ambitious as this, a book that has spoken to us for generations, belongs strictly to the page. Because as much as Baz Luhrmann gets right, the movie never quite grabs you the way it’s meant to. The way it should. Sean is a philistine who’s never actually read the novel (gasp!) and I wonder how his experience of the film differs from mine. For that matter, his experience of life.

Gatsby, you see, is the mysterious figure who haunts the pages of Fitzgerald’s genius work, but in the film, he’s all too knowable, especially when navigated by Leonardo DiCaprio, a muse of Luhrmann’s and an extremely familiar face to American moviegoers. And Tobey Maguire was already over when Luhrmann cast him as Carraway, the news just hadn’t quite made it to Australia yet. But Carey Mulligan as the luminous, quintessential, ethereal Daisy Buchanan? That was right. Inspired, even.

The best thing about this movie is and always has been Jay-Z’s genre-defying soundtrack. Luhrmann is no stranger to pairing period films with modern music to dazzling effect, but hip hop fits 1924 like it was always there, nestled between the cigarette holders and the champagne fountains and the bobbed haircuts. The costumes are a close second of course, every woman dripping with pearls and jet beads and scandalously raised hemlines. The accoutrements are perfection, so right that they almost distract from the fact that the movie itself is just wrong. And it’s not that anyone could have done it better. It’s probably just that no one should have even tried.

Hot Air

Lionel Macomb is the king of conservative talk radio. By shouting outlandish opinions and wildly distorting facts on hot button, right-wing issues, Lionel has made himself an empire. For 20 years he has slept on a mattress stuffed with cash but now a former protege, Whitley, is threatening his domain by presenting himself as a kinder, gentler (read: religious) right-wing alternative.

Lionel (Steve Coogan) isn’t exactly going to just let Whitley (Skylar Astin) walk away with a piece of the pie, but he’s been losing ground steadily and suddenly even his long-standing feud a Senator he dismissively refers to as “The Hyphen” (Judith Light) isn’t as fun anymore. It’s a terrible time for his life to be disrupted but it wouldn’t be much of a movie if it wasn’t. In waltzes a long-lost relation he never knew he had, 16 year old Tess (Taylor Russell). Tess challenges him and pushes his buttons, which doesn’t exactly ingratiate her to him. In fact, the only reason she’s allowed to stick around at all is an intervention by girlfriend Val (inexplicably, Neve Campbell), who is notably not as asshole but bewilderingly in love with one.

I love Steve Coogan and would happily watch him in anything. This role is great for him, caustic, wordy, with a ranty-ragey charisma. But then the script fails him. Tess arrives on the scene to humanize him, and while she does provide context, there’s not a lot of growth. It’s like writer Will Reichel forgot why movies exist. Maybe (and I’m being generous here) the point is that conservative “personalities” lack the basic human ability to change. Certainly a lack of soul is an asset to a career in punditry. But then why introduce Tess at all if he’s going to refuse to learn from her? It makes for a frustrating end because there’s no real redemption, and you get there only to realize that there’s also been very little on the journey there. Lionel Macomb is a talking head, a very good one thanks to Coogan, but a whole bunch of people spent a whole a bunch of money on this movie and nobody thought to ask: is there a point to this? Shouldn’t there be?

Benjamin

This intervention is classy as fuck. I mean, how often do you see hors d’oeuvres at these things?

Ed (Bob Saget) smelled crystal meth through his teenage son’s door and panicked. He has assembled what can only be described as a rag-tag game of misfits to confront his son and force him into rehab…IF he has a problem, which Ed is still loathe to admit. Aunt Clarice (Chery Oteri) and Uncle Mitch (Dave Foley) haven’t seen him since he was a baby. Ed’s BBF, a doctor also named Ed (Rob Corddry) will lead the way despite the fact that he’s an OB-GYN. Jeanette (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is running the whole thing, though she prefers to emphasize her girlfriend part of her credentials rather than assistant. Benjamin’s sister Amber brings a date, and a spare, and is mostly there to antagonize her father. It is unclear who put together the guest list, but the guest list was their first mistake. It was not their last.

Long story short: these people may be bigger fuckups than the kid they’re intervening, and without any moral superiority, it’s hard to sustain authority. Ya know?

Bob Saget is not a good enough actor to be allowed to direct himself (and yet here we are). I’m not saying he’s the worst part of this but…he is. He totally is. And there are a LOT of broken parts. Danny Tanner would have done a better job and – dare I say it – he would have been less corny. Saget might have one of the most recognizable faces on the shoddiest piece of work: total amateur hour. How was Full House his prime? How on earth do you go downhill from America’s Funniest Home Videos? Benjamin styles itself as a dark comedy but you know what’s problematic about that? I didn’t hear anyone laughing.

TIFF19: Honey Boy

Oh man. It’s already been more than a week and in many ways I’m still digesting this.

Honey Boy is an autobiographical movie that Shia LaBeouf wrote. Deep breaths.

Now we know a couple of things about Shia LaBeouf: he has suffered a pretty lengthy and public meltdown, and he has continued to put out some pretty worthy performances, albeit in smaller vehicles (American Honey and The Peanut Butter Falcon recently). In a review for Charlie Countryman, I attempted to parse the nature of his problems and his pain, but of course from the outside, you can only guess, and wish him well (or not). But Shia is at that point in his healing where he is letting us in. He is performing an exorcism here. The ghosts in his closet have been let loose – but will they haunt him less?

“Selfishly,” he told us, “I made this movie for 2 people: me, and my dad.” Let’s unpack that a bit.

First, you need to know that in this movie he wrote, Shia plays his father. His own father. Noah Jupe and Lucas Hedges play young Shia and older Shia, though the character goes by Otis in the film. What does it mean that he’s written this painfully intimate autobiographical film, but called his character by another name?

Shia’s father James was (is) an addict, an ex-con, abusive to both Shia and his mother. And yet when we meet young Otis, who is hard at work on the set of a show not unlike Even Stevens, he is living in a dingy motel with his dad. His dad is not just acting as a parental guardian, but as a paid one. James doesn’t work. He takes money from his kid. Which doesn’t stop him from neglecting the son he’s being paid handsomely to watch, or from hitting the child who is technically his boss.

This makes for a complicated relationship and a complicated childhood. And though Otis’s mother is seldom heard from , you do have to wonder – if it’s dad who has custody, just how bad is mom?

So you start to realize that this little kid has no parents. Or, actually, that he’d be better off without the ones he does have. But what he does have is a full-time job and more money than most adults. But he’s also got family obligations and staff who are also relatives but virtually no one telling him how to navigate these complex situations. So by the time Noah Jupe magically transforms into Lucas Hedges, Otis has PTSD and his own struggles with addiction and no idea how to take time out from his busy career and the pressures of Hollywood to deal with them. Until a court gives him very explicit directions to do so (and thank goodness).

But maybe his best therapy has been writing this screenplay. Clearly troubled after the TIFF premiere of Honey Boy, Shia is quick to reassure us that he’s happy to be here with us, but he’s quiet, introspective, quick to deflect to his costars and the director he so admires, Alma Har’el. As his struggles have become increasingly public and undeniable, he is coping with the tools he has available: creatively. But will his creation be his catharsis? And is any of this interesting or entertaining to those of us who have to personal stake in his recovery?

Resoundingly: yes. The absolute best bits are between young Otis (Jupe) and his father (LaBeouf). Mostly stuck in a crappy motel room, the anger between them is never at less than an aggressive simmer, and it’s ALWAYS on the verge of boiling over. Even the quiet is not to be trusted. The tension is awful and soon we too are responding like an abused kid, ready to flinch at the least provocation. If you come from a conflict-filled background yourself, you won’t fail to identify the triggers. Be gentle with yourself.

Honey Boy is a moving, emotional movie-going experience. I also hope it brought a certain amount of closure to a young man still wrestling with his demons.

TIFF19: Murmur

Donna has just been convicted of impaired driving and is sentenced to hours of community service. She lives alone in a serviceable apartment, her only company empty bottles of wine, and regret. Her grown daughter wants nothing to do with her.

Serving her time at an animal shelter, Donna gets the grubby, grotty tasks, which she performs uncomplainingly. She moves through her day, from mopping up shit, to alcohol counseling, back home to her wine, with little fuss, and little connection. It’s not until a mangy scruffball named Charlie is scheduled to be put down that we see Donna’s softer side. She begs her boss to allow Charlie to come home with her instead; Charlie is old, and sick, but she vows to take good care of him for his remaining days.

Her relief is obvious. Estranged from her daughter, isolated in her little apartment, Charlie is the first sign of affection we’ve seen from Donna. They bond. Are they maybe kinda sorta two of a kind? Both rejects? At any rate, the arrangement is so satisfying that Donna doesn’t stop at just one. Pretty soon she’s popping puppies like Pringles (no, she doesn’t eat them), her small apartment brimming with pets and still she can’t stop bringing them home.

Shan MacDonald is wonderful as Donna. She doesn’t try to pretty her up, or make her more likable. Donna is tough, and MacDonald rises to the occasion. I don’t imagine it’s an easy role to play, but there’s a universality in the loneliness that really resonates.

Murmur was a little slow to engage me as Donna’s life is bleak, and has so little personal interaction. But the dogs open her up in a lovely, tragic, humane way. It becomes easy to guess at the many ways in which Donna may relate to the dogs, may see herself in them. She certainly seems to find companionship easier with animals that with humans, and you know she’s not the first or the last to do that. Her social isolation is heart-breaking, and the film really manages to say something meaningful about addictions – empathetic without letting anyone off the hook.

Take This Waltz

Margot and Daniel meet over the whipping of an adulterer in old Montreal (one of this old-timey reenactment thingies). It’s brief, and it’s awkward, but they’re not exactly displeased to find each other sitting side by side on the plane ride home to Toronto. They’re pithy and flirty with each other, and it seems fairly cracking until the split cab ride home reveals two alarming truths: Daniel (Luke Kirby) is Margot’s neighbour, which prompts Margot (Michelle Williams to hurriedly confess that she is married. Happily. To Lou the cookbook writer (Seth Rogen).

Gem Sarah Polley writes and directs, and through her scenes of mundane domesticity, we see a content and comfortable marriage. The detail in their MV5BMTQwMTc2MTY2MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQ5NjU3Nw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_coupledom, the weird little quirks that pepper their relationship, these things are so specific they feel true. This couple feels solid. But while Margot knows inner contours of Lou’s every thought, Daniel is tantalizingly unknown. It’s hot: both the steaming Toronto summer and the relationship growing between neighbours. Maybe it’s even hotter because they’re trying to be good. Margot’s trying to be married to Lou, who gives her no reason to stray, and yet. And yet Daniel is mysterious and alluring. He’s new. Falling in love is not just about this other person, it’s about seeing your best self through their eyes. Of course Lou still thinks she’s beautiful, but beautiful in the way of a couple who’s been together a long time and hardly notices each other anymore. Beautiful even though he’s seen her bloated, he’s seen her blemished, he’s seen her hangry and petty and wearing sweat pants for 3 days straight. Beautiful in a way that when she’s naked in the shower, he’s more concerned about pranking her than ogling her body. Meanwhile, Daniel is deeply fetishizing her. She’s still a manic pixie girl to him, full of dark corners and intoxicating unavailability.

And here’s the true truth that Sarah Polley eventually gets around to: the grass isn’t greener. Or rather, the grass is greenest where you water it. Don’t take love for granted and don’t mistake novelty for connection. Take This Waltz is bittersweet and filled with melancholy despite having a saturated look about it, with reds that pop and yellows that burn like sunshine. It’s a great little movie that’s depressingly honest – a romance that defies its genre.

Tough Guy

After a year of getting beat up, the Detroit Red Wings “drafted big”, big guys across the board, which landed Canadian novice Bobby Probert was on the team. Bob Probert wasn’t just big, he was tough, and he had a reputation as a fighter. You know, to “protect his teammates.” As you do. This was the 80s, so hockey was rougher and refs were scarce. On-ice brawls were a lot more common than they are today, and Probert was only too happy to oblige. But Probert’s lack of restraint wasn’t just on the rink; off-hours, he drank heavily and did drugs. When stories of DUIs and police altercations hit the papers, the NHL forced him into treatment, and a lot of good that did – he hooked up with one of the counselors and brought her home. He must have been a charming schmuck because not only is that a huge breach of professionalism, it’s also pretty hard to overlook his chronically missing teeth.

The documentary shows the Red Wings management selfishly slapping bandaid solutions on the troubled kid. Their franchise was having a couple of difficult seasons, and if there weren’t any goals to get the hometown crowd excited, a fist fight would do it, and “The Bruise Brothers” (with Joey Kocur) became marketing gold. The coach kept indiscreetly mouthing off to the press, and Probert was now skating high, a cocaine-fueled rage machine waiting for a target.

Back and forth between Detroit (USA) and Windsor (Canada), it was only a matter of time before border patrol found drugs in Probert’s possession. Sure jail was a possibility, but so was deportation, and that was a threat to his career. The NHL failed him in more than one way: he was constantly told that he played better (meaner) when he was drinking than sober, but a contract with serious money was the best incentive for sobriety, and for a time, it worked.

Tough Guy interviews former teammates, former rivals (Tie Domi!), family members, even Don Cherry. It’s a Canadian wet dream, except it tells a dark tale with a mean downward spiral.