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 Streephappens 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.”

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.

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.

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:

Shehan Karunaratne, Nova Recovery Center, lists three things viewers may want to consider after seeing The Anonymous People:

  1. The battle against addiction stigma isn’t over yet.
  2. Coming out of the shadows is important for personal recovery and to help others.
  3. Community is the backbone of recovery.
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.”

Roger Ebert: “It is nearly flawless.”

Aug 24

Caitlin Moran: Food Addiction and Other “Woman” Issues

Award-winning British author Caitlin Moran writes about the stigma attached to women with food addiction in an excellent recent essay called “I Know Why the Fat Lady SingsWhen she visits a female friend participating in an intensive addictions recovery program, Moran learns something and then makes an interesting observation:

As my friend told me, sitting on the end of her bed chain-smoking, an institution full of emotionally troubled substance abusers turns out to be no fun at all.

‘There’s a pecking order,’ she sighed, shredding her cuticles with her opposing thumbnail. ‘The heroin addicts look down on the coke addicts. The coke addicts look down on the alcoholics. And everyone thinks the people with eating disorders—fat or thin—are scum.’

And there’s your pecking order of unhappiness, in a nutshell. Of all the overwhelming compulsions you can be ruined by, all of them have some potential for some perverted, self-destructive fascination—except eating…

Specifically, overeating and/or food addiction is neither sexy nor crazily dramatic. It actually looks kind of functional, ordinary. Caitlin Moran delves deeper into how moms, for example, can have their food-as-a-drug and have a life too:

...(B)y choosing food as your drug—sugar highs, or the deep, soporific calm of carbs—you can still make the packed lunches, do the school run, look after the baby, stop in on your parents and then stay up all night with an ill 5-year-old—something that is not an option if you’re regularly climbing into the cupboard under the stairs and knocking back quarts of scotch.

Overeating is the addiction of choice of ‘carers,’ and that’s why it’s come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions. It’s a way of screwing yourself up while still remaining fully functional, because you have to. Fat people aren’t indulging in the ‘luxury’ of their addiction, making them useless, chaotic or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn’t inconvenience anyone. And that is why it’s so often a woman’s addiction of choice.

I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse, rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and instead start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits. Coming into the office looking frazzled, sighing, ‘Man, I was on the pot roast last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like, POTATOES in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m.’

Caitlin Moran also happens to be the author of the new-ish book How to Be a Woman, which covers feminist topics in addition to food addictionHolloway McCandless, Shelf Awareness, compares it favorably to other recently popular books by female authors: “As funny and careerist as Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.”