Oct 30

“Burnt”: If Nothing Else At Least This Film Has a Shrink

Directed by John Wells, the new film Burnt, which has Bradley Cooper as top chef Adam Jones, has been pretty “burnt” by the critics so far.

The plot: Adam, who’s destroyed his career with substance abuse and unacceptable behavior, tries to regain control of his work and life.

Some of Justin Chang‘s review in Variety seems particularly appropriate, if not complimentary, for this blog. He calls Burnt “a moody-foodie therapy session that follows an increasingly tidy narrative recipe as it sets this one-man kitchen nightmare on a long road to redemption.”

Adds Carole Mallory (Huffington Post), “Sobriety is a tough journey and not the one, two, three effort that Adam Jones travels in Burnt.”

And, Elise Nakhnikian, Slant: “…(T)he ‘real’ story is Adam’s psychological rehabilitation. As everything in this by-the-numbers script signals, our hero must transform himself from an abusive tyrant in the kitchen and a loner at home to the head of a loving and fully functional family, in both his professional and his personal lives. Can he do it? The suspense (or something) is killing me.”

Other big-name stars include Sienna Miller as his sous chef and potential love interest, Daniel Brühl as a maître d’ (who happens to be gay), Uma Thurman as a restaurant critic (“a brief but amusing appearance as a tough lesbian food critic,” says Rex Reed, New York Observer)—and Emma Thompson as Adam’s shrink.

As stated by Alonso Duralde, The Wrap, psychiatrist Dr. Rosshilde (Thompson) has to administer weekly drug tests to Adam, per his new restaurant investors, and is “just dying to get this brash young chef to open up to her about what’s really bugging him.”

But because most of the cast, according to Justin Chang (Variety), ultimately “are forced to serve a basically therapeutic purpose, trying to show Adam that his extreme perfectionism is destroying his capacity for functional human relationships…even the never-unwelcome Emma Thompson seem(s) pretty redundant in the role of an actual therapist.”

Scott Mendelson, Forbes: Thompson has fun as a would-be therapist to whom Adam must report to in order to reaffirm his continuing sobriety, although the film feels on the verge of revealing that she is his mother or some such notion.”

Oh, I so hope she’s not indeed related to her client in any way (à la the misguided 2005 Prime, in which Thurman ‘s shrink, played by Meryl Streep, happens to be the mom of her boyfriend). (See previous post about the therapist’s weird handling of the boundaries.)

At least there’s this, from Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com: “The movie goes up several notches in quality every time Emma Thompson, as a sagacious therapist, turns up.”

Oct 07

Patrick Kennedy Portrays “A Common Struggle” In Book

Former U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy (RI-DEM) is probably best known and appreciated professionally for what he’s done for mental health parity—as he says, making “the scope of mental health coverage the same as all the rest of physical health care coverage.”

And he hasn’t stopped there. Since leaving the House of Representatives in 2011, he founded the Kennedy Forum, an organization that supports various mental health initiatives, and co-founded One Mind for Research, which studies brain disorders. One common thread among his different pursuits is his desire to eliminate mental health stigma.

Patrick Kennedy is probably at least as well known both for being the son of Joan and Ted Kennedy and for having well-publicized though not necessarily publicly understood personal problems.

Believing in the 12-step program maxim “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” Kennedy has come out in recent years about the specific nature of his long-term battles with substance abuse and mental health issues. He has also finally, after repeated efforts throughout his lifetime, made his sobriety stick—four-plus years worth, he says.

In his new book A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addictionco-authored with journalist Stephen Fried, Patrick Kennedy expands not only on his own story but also on that of his famous family—thereby breaking what he calls “the Kennedy code of silence.”

A code, by the way, that extends to psychotherapy, in case the “psychiatrist” breaks confidentiality.

This past Sunday, the evening before the book’s publication, Kennedy was interviewed by 60 Minutes anchor Lesley Stahl. He expressed his awareness that many of his family members will not be happy with his revelations and/or perspectives.

“It’s a conspiracy of silence,” he notes, “not only for the person who is suffering, but for everyone else who’s forced to interact with that person. That’s why they call this a family disease.”

Although he writes mainly about his own issues, Patrick Kennedy also addresses certain family secrets—examples include the extent of the alcohol problems of both parents, the probable PTSD of his father (related to the tragic assassinations of brothers JFK and RFK), and the effects of no one discussing or processing these incidents as well as others, e.g., Chappaquiddick.

Stahl: “You actually say that because nobody talked about these things in the family, you were all kind of like zombies…”

Kennedy: “Well, we were living in a limbo land where all of this chaos, this emotional turmoil, was happening. And we were expected just to live through it.”

Somehow he has lived through it, and now he’s also managed to turn himself around. Currently he does what he can to maintain his sobriety, which includes daily 12-step meetings, and to treat his bipolar disorder, which includes taking appropriate medication.

So far, notably, it seems that news about A Common Struggle has focused more on the family’s negative reactions to it and less on reporting or reviewing its actual contents. The Boston Globe, however, calls the book “strikingly raw and emotional,” while other readers have applauded this Kennedy’s courage and openness.

Aug 14

Public Shaming: How NOT to Get Others to Change

At the same time that the serious and thoughtful work of such researchers as Brené Brown has helped us understand the harmful effects of shame, debate continues over whether the purposeful use of public shaming can motivate people to make healthy changes, e.g., to lose weight or recover from an addiction or be a better-behaved child.

Mirroring this issue has been a burgeoning public shaming humor culture in which photos of non-humans committing bad behaviors are posted online. These dogs, cats, bunnies, and even robots often wear signs expressing their various confessions of wrongdoing. Some examples can be found at the following sites:

Turning back to people, the following quote from Brené Brown, in an interview with Mothers Movement, is pertinent to the argument against the shaming method: “Meaningful, healthy change requires us to assess both our strengths and limitations. We change from a place of self-worth, not a place of shame, powerlessness and isolation. Real change requires awareness, insight and thoughtful decision-making – these are rarely present when we are experiencing shame.”

Unfortunately, our culture has long been into shaming, Brown points out. Children especially are often targeted, as for parents and other caretakers “(i)t is both effective and efficient in the short-term.”

She elaborates on how this tendency is then recycled throughout our culture:

…(S)hame is used as a change agent all the time. It’s used in our ‘here and now’ society because you can actually see a swift behavior change when you use shame. The consequences, however, are very serious. Shame promotes change by using fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted and fear of disconnection. Ultimately, shame is very destructive to both the person doing the shaming and the person being shamed. When you talk to 200 women about shame (and now some men as well), you quickly learn how many of our deepest scars are from being shamed and many of our most profound regrets can be traced back to experiences when we shamed others.

An example of shaming gone wrong, as reported in The Huffington Post, is seen in the recent research of psychologist Angelina Sutin et al. showing that it actually hinders weight loss—in fact, victims of weight discrimination were significantly more likely to become obese.

In a Psychology Today blog post, noted addictions expert Dr. Stanton Peele also warns against public shaming. He states that the too common practice of rehab shaming, or “hectoring addicts and alcoholics for their bad behavior,” also fails.

Peele refers to neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitzwhose article in Time, “Being Ashamed of Drinking Prompts Relapse, Not Recovery,” cites new research results that “add to a body of literature suggesting that widely used shaming and humiliating methods of treating alcohol and other drug problems — such as those seen on shows like Celebrity Rehab — are not only ineffective but also may be counterproductive.”

In fact, we just wind up back where we started:

Why doesn’t shame change or deter addictive behavior? Shame is not only an effect of addiction but also can be a key reason why some people turn to drink or other drugs in the first place. Research suggests that people who feel particularly high levels of shame are at increased risk not just for addictions but also for other conditions that can worsen addictions, like depression…

That can set up a vicious cycle: if you drink to escape shame and then embarrass yourself while drinking, you wind up with even more reasons to drink — and to be ashamed of yourself.

Have you ever been shamed into changing your bad habits or behavior? How’d it work out?

Jun 24

“The Anonymous People” and the Public Recovery Movement

Many in recovery from substance abuse and other addictions choose anonymity, often participating in 12-step “Anonymous”-type programs. But a new documentary called The Anonymous People focuses on something called The New Recovery Advocacy Movement, an alternative to this more traditional approach.

What is this Recovery Advocacy Movement about? Some key “core and evolving messages,” taken from the Faces & Voices of Recovery website, include recognizing various pathways to recovery, having supportive communities, seeing recovery as a voluntary process, and becoming part of the solution in communities.

For further info, check out Faces and Voices of Recovery online.

The feature documentary film The Anonymous People attempts to destigmatize people with addiction. From the film’s website: “The moving story of The Anonymous People is told through the faces and voices of citizens, leaders, volunteers, corporate executives, public figures, and celebrities who are laying it all on the line to save the lives of others just like them. This passionate new public recovery movement aims to transform public opinion, engage communities and elected officials, and finally shift problematic policy toward lasting solutions.”

Greg Williams, age 28, is the creator of The Anonymous People and is reportedly himself at least 11 years sober from multiple substances. No longer “Greg W.”, he’s now fully out. Why? He’s on a mission to reduce the stigma attached to addiction and recovery.

From an article at Juvenile Justice: “[Williams] hopes the movie alters perceptions and leads to deep changes in how experts look at finding a solution.” This includes looking at the way addiction affects society’s institutions, e.g., public health and criminal justice.

Watch the trailer below:

Nov 09

“Flight”: Airline Pilot in Denial About His Addictions

Like the movie Smashed addressed in yesterday’s postFlight, another new flickis mainly about the addiction issues of the main character, an airline pilot named Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington).

At the start of this mystery thriller directed by Robert Zemeckis, Whitaker makes a needed and harrowing crash landing. The outcome is that it saves just about everyone on his plane and makes him a hero. A followup investigation, however, finds that Whitaker had been under the influence of alcohol and cocaine.

Basically, the film’s focus goes from a disastrous event to a life in disaster. Connie Ogle, Miami Herald, capsulizes the aftermath of the crash landing:

Flight, then, is not about post-traumatic stress or survivor’s guilt; it’s an examination of a man’s inability to come to terms with his alcoholism. But once you get past the intriguing fact that although Whip’s job puts hundreds of lives into his hands on a daily basis yet he’s cavalier about protecting them, the movie doesn’t feel much different than any other exploration of addiction. All the usual cliches are here. Whip has a shattered marriage in his past and is estranged from his teenage son. He hooks up with a young drug addict (Kelly Reilly) who’s trying to get sober. He lashes out at anyone who tries to help him even as he promises, ‘I can stop on my own.’

Other notable stars include Don Cheadle as Whitaker’s lawyer and John Goodman (in real life a recovering alcoholic) as his “Dr. Feelgood hippie” drug dealer and friend (Miami Herald).

The Addiction Struggles

Lisa KennedyDenver Post: “His sins are more of the denial variety, but he’s infuriating and manipulative. His ex is fed up. His teenage son despises him. In the grip of vices, he’s an addict and not in any hurry to stand up and make that declaration. Root for him and he’s likely to fail you, too.”

Tom CharityCNN: “When he picks up a fellow addict…and offers her shelter in the out-of-the-way farm where he grew up, it’s a toss-up whether he’s trying to help or looking for a like-minded screw-up and enabler…”

Forrest Wickman, Slate:

And though the crash sobered him temporarily, he soon decides he can manage his drinking. He landed a broken plane while coked up—can’t he steer his own addiction?

…(W)hile Flight is hardly an endorsement of drunk driving (let alone flying), it’s startling to see a character spend so much screen time getting away with it—most on-screen drunk drivers can’t drive a block without finding a telephone pole.

But Did You Like It?

Lisa SchwarzbaumEntertainment Weekly: “AA, God, and prayer are invoked by various characters with various religious convictions in John Gatins’ unflinching screenplay, each time with a seriousness, modesty, and ease rare in so many movies about drunks and their journeys.”

Andrew O’HehirSalon: “Slowly but surely, ‘Flight’ degenerates from a tale of moral paradox and wounded romance into a mid-1990s after-school special about addiction and recovery.”

Regina Weinrich, The Huffington Post: “That a hotel mini-bar can be scarier than a plane flailing in midair is a measure of this classic cautionary tale, one of the best pictures as award season approaches.”