Dr. Donna Copeland’s
SAM ROCKWELL OLIVIA WILDE MICHELLE MONAGHAN RAY LIOTTA JANE FONDA
Better Living Through Chemistry
When Dolly Parton sang “You Better Get to Livin’,” I don’t think this is exactly what she had in mind. Better Living Through Chemistry takes a sweet and sour look at the effects of abusing prescription drugs. Instantly isolating itself as a comedy dealing with a real world problem and making light of it, regardless of the message in the end, many will be turned off. However, Sam Rockwell (The Way, Way Back) was born to play this part as the straight laced pharmacist who grows more than just balls when he creates quite a concoction for himself behind the counter. The film's impressive opening credits hint to some of the creativity to follow.
Woodberry is a quiet little town with one pharmacy called Bishops. Founder Walter Bishop (Ken Howard) is hanging up the white lab coat and selling the business to his son-in-law Douglas Varney (Rockwell), but refusing to change the name. Stuck in the mundane cycle of his life with a stale marriage and a kid who likes to smear poop on lockers at school, the first sight of new lady Elizabeth Roberts (Wilde) gives Mr. Pharmacist an entirely new outlook on life. “Girls don’t go for honest and sweet, but women do”. However, Varney becomes anything but honest and sweet when Elizabeth suggests they start sampling some of the pills for fun.
Rockwell and Wilde actually replaced original cast Jeremy Renner and Jennifer Garner, thank goodness, because I can’t think of an interesting attribute between those two in these roles. The narration--wait, let me clarify--the naughty narration by Jane Fonda is one of the best things about the film. Of course, she even appears in a small onscreen cameo, but hearing her voice phrases like “balls deep," among others, was both shocking and entertaining. Rockwell and Wilde have great chemistry and the rest of the film scenes suffer when they are not interacting.
There are a handful of really funny and well written scenes, like the masturbation/couch story Varney has with his son. Unfortunately, this film with two directors has a soggy middle section, especially when the DEA agent shows up to investigate. With one of the many subplots, we can see the outcome a mile away, not that Varney can see clearly at all two thirds into the film as he wears his skin tight singlet and pops pills just to get back in control of his marriage. One minute Doug is super dad for his disturbed son, the next minute he goes full Charlie Sheen. Anyone with any knowledge of the long term effects these drugs will have can scoff at the easy on and off Varney enacts.
Final Thought – Certainly has it’s funny moments due to the chemistry between Wilde and Rockwell.
By: Dustin Chase
This film starts out looking like it will be predictable—wimpy man with over-controlling wife gets star-struck by a bored wealthy housewife. What follows is unpredictable, yet seems very contrived as well. We get led down a garden path only to discover that oops! other mistakes have been made and everything is OK now.
Sam Rockwell—an excellent actor—is a passive pharmacist who has bought his father-in-law’s pharmacy, yet seems to have no say over very much, including changing the signs outside to reflect his own name. He doesn’t like to bike, but his wife is obsessed with it and commands his presence, so he acquiesces. His son is having problems at school, but Doug (Rockwell) seems to have no authority in getting him to sit down and talk about it, and furthermore, even though the school has suggested he get help and Doug is for it, his wife is not, and cancels the child’s appointments.
Enter the town vamp (Wilde) who seduces him, teaches him all kinds of things, and gives him feedback about his marriage. She is just as informed about “better living through chemistry”, and teaches him a few more things about that. Of course, Doug being who he is, follows her just like he has his wife Kara (Monaghan). Complications ensue in the form of an audit by a DEA agent, and Doug begins to sweat. Plans are then devised that are supposed to solve all kinds of problems, and things seem to be proceeding according to plan, and then that is when the uh-oh’s are introduced. Although the film continues to be entertaining, there is not much substance to the resolution, in that one deus ex machina after another is employed.
I am a big fan of Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back), and he does a fine job in this film, as do Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Ray Liotta, Jane Fonda, and Ken Howard. The acting is great; it’s just that the script by writers-directors Geoff Moore and David Posamentier is facile in the end, despite a good start. Perhaps, since they are relatively new to the business, they need more experience, or perhaps the powers-that-be exerted their control.
In short, an other-directed, wimpy pharmacist gets in over his head when he tries to accommodate too many people at once.
By Donna R. Copeland