Saturday, December 12, 2015

Clean and Sober

2.5/4

Starring: Michael Keaton, Diane Baker, Morgan Freeman, M. Emmett Walsh, Brian Benben

Rated R (probably for Language, Drug Content, and Brief Nudity)

Addiction movies come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are feel-good movies ("28 Days") while others are absolutely brutal to watch ("Once Were Warriors").  Some are realistic ("Smashed") while others are totally whacked-out ("Requiem for a Dream").  The 1988 film "Clean and Sober" is different because it's not about addiction itself, but addictive personalities.

Daryl Poynter (Keaton) is having a really bad day.  A girl he picked up has OD'd on coke in his bed and he can't find a way to pay back the considerable sum that he embezzled from his company.  Unable to get out of the country, he is all out of options when the radio gives him a brilliant idea: a rehab facility with 100% confidentiality.  Daryl hides out there while he figures out what to do with himself.  His case officer, a man named Craig (Freeman), sees right through him, however.

What sets "Clean and Sober" apart from other addiction movies is that its focus not on substance abuse, but on Daryl himself.  I forget where I heard the term "addicted to chaos," but that describes Daryl perfectly.  He needs to be on the go 24/7.  He needs the stress, the rush, the "go go go" lifestyle.  His addiction may manifest itself through alcohol and cocaine, but it's his personality that is the real problem.  Many addiction movies, even the good ones like "The Lost Weekend," think that it's the substance that is the problem.  "Clean and Sober" is smart enough to know that it's the other way around.

Had the film followed this route to its natural conclusion, it would have been a good film.  But for whatever reason, the filmmakers decided to turn it into a romance.  Daryl is a relentless womanizer, and a fellow addict named Charlie (Baker) catches his eye.  She knows he's phony (probably because he does little to hide it), but she has an addictive personality too.  She's attracted to dangerous men like her husband Lenny (Luca Bercovici).  It would be hard enough to set aside the fact that this sort of thing is frowned upon in AA (from what I understand), but Keaton and Baker don't have any real chemistry, despite them giving nice performances.  Morgan Freeman is a little flat, although that's mainly due to the fact that his role is a cliché.  Much more interesting are M. Emmett Walsh as Daryl's sponsor and Brian Benben as Daryl's co-worker.

It's true that the events in the second half illustrate a hard lesson for Daryl, but I just wish that they felt more honest and less like a soap opera.  Then I might be able to recommend this film.

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