Hey, Alcoholics, Do you really want to be portrayed this way? Not only having to go through the physical pain of withdrawal, the humiliation of prostrating yourself in front of snide voyeurs, the loss of income, respect and friendship, now you also have to endure 28 DAYS representing your rehabilitation as kindergarten for grownups with mental disorders. So, uh, you love watching soap operas and not having sex and chanting slogans like incognizant dummies? This movie tells me so. You don’t like it, take it up with Columbia Pictures…
Sandra Bullock is having way too much of a good time to be a good christian. She’s fun drunk Gwen, and along with fun-drunk boyfriend Jasper (Dominic West), she ruins sister Elizabeth Perkins’s wedding with her douchey dancing and falling into the cake and stealing the limousine and have we hit rock bottom yet? Well, maybe in real life; but in cinema, we’ve just hit the first ten minutes of Teen Movie.
Sentenced to 28 days in rehab or jail, Gwen chooses that option that we’d all choose because we’re exploiting the system that considers alcoholism a disease.
If you know the first thing about rehab centers – not just those under the AA banner – you’ll know that each of them operates under a different set of rules, condescendingly looking down on other centers’ protocols. Oops! Gwen gets one of those centers that confiscates your meds (as if to spite her); ulp! It’s one of the God-is-Great places; oh, and they chant (“ho ho ho – alcohol has got to go!” “keep your whiskey sours – we are blah blah higher powers”) and – shit! – this is one of those toilet-cleaning places.
Other members include Alan Tudyk (an especially zealous member, who can’t seem to decide what accent he wants to use), Reni Santoni (being Dirty Harry’s partner will land you here), Mike O’Malley (who wants to bullock Sandy). And a Meet Cute with the love interest for the sake of swoony girlies – it’s AA – Alcoholic Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen, this close to the release of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, looking like man meat about to be jumped by groupies. Or orcs.).
A solid performance from Steve Buscemi as the counselor, serious as a relapse. He gives Gwen books – “literature about your disease,” which means it really isn’t “literature” in the common usage of the word, if it considers alcoholism a disease. (Let’s get this straight, Alcoholics: nowhere in any medical literature – real literature – will you find alcohol listed as a “disease”; the only “disease” associated with alcoholism is when your liver catches on fire – then you’ve got liver disease.) He relates a story to his “group” about waking on a sidewalk covered in blood, and I realized… You people just loooove these vicarious war stories, don’t you? It’s sob-story paradise; it’s voyeur delight; it’s reality TV, every lick-your-lips mishap and outrageous party turd in the swimming pool. Soak it up, Spongebob.
Of course, Jasper is shown as irresponsible so that Gwen can make out with Aragorn in good conscience. Which she does. But what if Jasper wasn’t irresponsible? What if he was 9-to-5, and helping her recover, and going straight himself? Well, let’s see… Jasper visits one day, proposes marriage, and says he’ll go straight for her. There is no indication this is just a ruse or a lark. (It’s probably impossible to adhere to, but that’s not the point – his intention is sincere.) What does Gwen do? “I can’t stand this ‘straighten up and fly right’ shit!” Then what DO you want? If you can’t stand it when your man goes straight, and if you can’t stand it for yourself, would you prefer jail? Oh, no thanks, unlike AA and all its Jesus talk, jail is real. As soon as Sandy says that line, this depressing propaganda turns into contradictory dungbeetle. No surprise. AA thrives on contradictions. Here’s a good one: “Only God has the power to get you straight” – but apparently he wasn’t strong enough to keep you sober in the first place.
Jasper keeps telling her she’s fine, that she’s just in a rut, that she’s not an “alcoholic” – but she keeps denying his positive claims! Waitaminute! Isn’t it one of this cult’s tenets that chanting “Ho ho ho – liquor’s gotta go!” enables you to stay off the liquor? By that logic, shouldn’t repeatedly telling her, “You’re fine you’re fine you’re fine” make her well? Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to append the dickhead rhyming word: “hine hine hine – you’re fine you’re fine you’re fine.” Are we feeling good about ourselves yet, goshdarnit?
It’s not exactly AA, but it’s close enough, and we know that anyone who creates this sort of quasi-preachy media has been shredded through the AA machine a few times. Good for you, director Betty Thomas and writer Susannah Grant – you kicked your habit, you “got sober” for a few months to schlep this message movie into being. I’m happy for you. But you know, your group didn’t do it. God didn’t do it. YOU did. And you weren’t “cured.” You just stopped drinking.
And why can’t you accept that you were solely to blame for your transgressions? Why do you take revenge on all “sober” people by painting them in your movie as nitpickers and anal retentive pricks that have no sense of humor? Y’know, if someone fell into your wedding cake or peed in your punch, I’d like to see YOU try to retain a sense of humor. Why is every drunk in this movie an intrinsically ethical, decent person? Why are they portrayed as poor little fragile pusses not responsible for their actions?
O’Malley’s doughy guy character is constantly coming onto Gwen. Does she reciprocate? Does she even consider not treating him like an infant, with that snide snigger every time he flirts with her? Matter of fact, everything he says is placed in the “creep” bin; not one person in the film or in the audience takes this guy’s overtures seriously! Why? Because we’ve been conditioned by assholic Hollywood convention to believe that doughy guys just don’t mate. Their genes are going to die out soon, to be replaced by genes from Dominic West and Viggo Mortensen. This lesson is paid forward, backward and sideways into every single Hollywood movie.
Pity no one gleans the real lessons this film has to offer. Example: Gwen’s roommate (Azura Skye) overdoses the day before she is scheduled to leave. Lesson? Proof that the program doesn’t work for everyone, just those who are strong enough to kick their addiction. And if rehab only works for the strong, it means the weak will always relapse, which means they’re wasting everyone’s time. Why don’t we let their “diseased” genes die out so as not to multiply into the human species? Ignore lesson. Continue doing what you’re doing, i.e. drinking or not drinking… makes no difference…