Dec 20

“Ben Is Back”: Addicts Lie to Themselves and Others

…about a mother and son dancing around the issue of trust over 24 hours of fraught tension. There’s both joy and a threat in its title: Addicts are notorious liars, and Ben has proved himself a master of the game. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, regarding Ben Is Back

Addicts say what they need to say in order to stay sick, and Holly [Ben’s mom] beats herself up for believing any of it. David Ehrlich, IndieWire

They lie reflexively…David Edelstein, Vulture

These words, not from addiction specialists but from movie critics who’ve seen Peter Hedges‘s new film Ben Is Back, starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as mom and son, are meant to express the core issue of the movie. How do loved ones trust an addict, whether in recovery or not?

The harsh truth is that active addicts lie. First and foremost, addicts lie to themselves. According to DrugAbuse.com, five lies of this nature:

  1. My addiction doesn’t affect anyone else.
  2. I’d never be able to manage my problems without drugs/alcohol.
  3. I’m in control of my substance abuse; I can stop whenever I want to.
  4. But, I’m not like so-and-so…he/she’s really in bad shape.
  5. I don’t care about my life and I don’t care if my addiction kills me.

Addicts also lie to everyone else. From the Narconon website:

Nearly every family of an addicted person encounters this shocking fact: The addicted lie and manipulate those around them. Even those who have long been close to one’s heart—like one’s children or a spouse—will lie to one’s face. These were people who were loved and trusted, sometimes for decades before addiction came to live in the home.

It’s a brutal reality that it takes some families years to come to grips with. Some families never do come to grips with it. But every day that a family fails to realize that they are being lied to and manipulated, addiction gets to thrive and maintain its of influence.

Narconon proceeds to describe some of the reasons addicts lie:

    • Drug cravings overwhelm any components of integrity
    • Drug use “shut(s) down the user’s ability to be analytical”
    • Both impaired ability to be analytical and the desire for the drug leads to actions, including crimes, that betray formerly held morals
    • “Now add guilt to the mix. Guilt acts like concrete laid on top of the analytical shutdown, cravings and crimes. Now the addicted person struggles with a burden that can’t be faced. The person is now locked in that destructive pattern of behavior.”

J. Wesley Boyd, MD, PhD, co-author of Almost Addicted, lists “Five Must-Do Things if a Family Member Is Abusing Drugs” (Psychology Today):

  1. Educate yourself about addiction
  2. Do not allow yourself to be abused
  3. Don’t “enable” the behavior by colluding with the user in some way or covering up the abuse
  4. If any essential aspect of your own life is in jeopardy, seek professional help
  5. Attend to your own health and well-being

At the same time, of course, a family member can encourage the addict to seek help and/or to stay in treatment. One effective approach toward this aim involves maintaining and cultivating one’s compassion, “the most powerful tool you can have when it comes to healing addictions of any kind,” according to Beverly Engel, LMFT, Psychology Today.

Nov 17

“Wonder” Movie Furthers “Choose Kind” Movement

‘Wonder’ Makes A Case For The Classic Tear-Jerker. Leigh Blickley, HuffPost

Anti-Bullying Tale Is a Tasteful Tear-Jerker. Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

...a tear-jerker that earns your tears. Chris Nashawaty, ew.com

Get the picture? Stephen Chbosky‘s new film Wonder is a wonder-ful weepie.

Its power cast includes Jacob Tremblay (the boy in the critically acclaimed 2015 Room) as well as Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his parents.

Description of the plot from Rotten Tomatoes:

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

Gleiberman points out that the title of  R.J.Palacio’s novel (2012), on which the film is based, derived from Natalie Merchant‘s old song about a female overcoming a physical disability. I know it well: Doctors have come from distant cities, just to see me/Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they’re seeing…

And the book, notes Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter, actually “sparked a ‘Choose Kind’ movement — ‘kind’ as in ‘kindness,’or what the world needs now…” Click Choose Kind for more info.

As for the film’s style, apparently it follows the book’s lead. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter:

The narrative is divided into chapters, each dedicated to the perspective of one of the young characters, and sometimes doubles back on events, lending new facets and dimension. First up is Auggie, who enters the fifth-grade fray with the slouch of someone who’d rather not face other people’s discomfort. His older sister, Via (sensitively played by Izabela Vidovic), gets a chapter, as do her former best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), and Auggie’s new school buddy Jack (Noah Jupe), a genial scholarship student with an unsteady sense of loyalty. With commendable concision and insight, the film sympathetically reveals the challenges they each face on the home front. Even the villainous Julian gets a redemptive aha moment.

The Trailer

Selected Reviews

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “…a celebration of empathy, a reminder that even the people who might be making us miserable have their own problems and their own people who are making them miserable.”

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: “…a drama of disarmingly level-headed empathy that glides along with wit, assurance, and grace, and has something touching and resonant to say about the current climate of American bullying.”

Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction: “It’s probably not a shocker to learn [this] is gonna make you cry. What is a heartrending surprise is how gently it delivers its earnest profundity on the ripple effect of kindness.”

David Ehrlich, IndieWire: “It’s a how-to guide for kindness — a good lesson for kids, and a helpful reminder for adults. It’s not like the world couldn’t use one.”

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “Despite all these people orbiting around him, Auggie remains ‘Wonder’s’ main event, and though its upbeat earnestness is ever-present, it has the integrity to understand that not even kindness can eliminate all problems.”

May 23

“The Normal Heart”: New Adaptation of Larry Kramer’s Play

If you have access to HBO, most advance reviews indicate it’s well worth checking out Sunday night’s premiere of The Normal Heart. David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, says, in fact, there are “millions” of reasons to tune in, including, “because ‘The Normal Heart’ seethes with rage, truth and love in every single performance by an A-list cast. You should watch because Larry Kramer’s play is so much more than an agitprop relic from the early years of AIDS — it is a great play that has become an even greater television film.”

There are those who disagree, however, that the TV adaptation is better than the play. David Hinckley, New York Daily News, for example:

…’The Normal Heart’ is most effective in a good stage production, because it seethes with a visceral anger best felt in the physical presence of the actors.
But this new Ryan Murphy adaptation comes close, thanks in large measure to the fury that Mark Ruffalo gives to lead character Ned Weeks…
Weeks becomes the voice of outrage, demanding friends and foes alike acknowledge the urgency of this plague.

Below Wiegand sets up the TV film’s plot, which is based on Kramer’s real-life experiences in the early 1980’s. He also introduces the main characters played by, in order of their characters’ mentions, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, and Matt Bomer:

Ned Weeks…is an abrasive activist-slash-writer who tries to rally gay men toward awareness of the growing health crisis and lobbies in vain for the New York Times to give the issue appropriate coverage.
Soon enough, the situation is impossible for gay men to ignore, although the straight world would do its damnedest for several years. When Ned urges sexual abstinence as a way of stopping the spread of the so-called ‘gay cancer,’ he may as well be advocating a mass return to the closet by the entire gay population of New York.
He finds a powerful ally in Dr. Emma Brookner…whose childhood battle with polio has left her in a wheelchair as an adult but has also taught her that health crises demand urgent and focused response.
As Weeks steps up pressure on the Times, he meets a lifestyle writer for the paper named Felix Turner…who becomes his lover.

Critics have praised the cast as a whole, with frequent special mentions of Bomer’s performance. Other cast members include Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina, Denis O’Hare, and Joe Mantello.

You can watch the trailer below:

SELECTED REVIEWS

David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle:

[Murphy’s] film, with an adaptation by Kramer, captures the conflicting attitudes and emotions in the New York gay community as indifference and denial turned to panic, anger and despair, but it also recognizes that ‘The Normal Heart’ tells a human story far beyond both its subject matter and the time in which it is set…

It is emotionally raw, harrowing, and a thing of such singular horrific beauty, it will move you, exhaust you and, almost paradoxically, thrill you at the heights television drama can attain.

Brian Tallerico, rogerebert.com: “Expect tears before the end of the first half-hour. Expect anger. Expect to be emotionally exhausted.”

Chuck Barney, Mercury News: “What [Murphy] delivers is a film with piercing emotional honesty that feels rough and real, intimate and truly full of heart.”

David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: “…will keep you up for hours in an emotional churn thinking about life, love, loss, death and politics.”

Peter Knegt, Indiewire: “…(I)t’s messy and disjointed, never confident in its tone and failing to live up to its epic potential. Hopefully if Kramer and Murphy…team up for a sequel, they find a way to make it up to us (maybe by hiring someone else to direct it?).”

Jan 13

“August: Osage County”–A Strong Film Adaptation

Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for the semi-autobiographical Broadway play he’s now adapted for the screen. As described on IMDB, the film August: Osage County, directed by John Wells, is “(a) look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.”

Although the movie is the only version I’ve seen, it’s easy to envision how the play would also have powerfully and rivetingly revealed the various layers of family stuff involved. One who actually can make the comparison to the original, Scott FoundasVariety, concludes, “…(T)his two-ton prestige pic won’t win the hearts of highbrow critics or those averse to door-slamming, plate-smashing, top-of-the-lungs histrionics, but as a faithful filmed record of Letts’ play, one could have scarcely hoped for better.”

When alcoholic poet Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing just days after he hires young Johnna (Misty Upham) to help take care of the house and his pill-popping cancer-stricken wife Violet (Meryl Streep), the latter turns to her adult kids. There’s the middle daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the one who’s stayed nearby; the eldest, Barbara (Julia Roberts), who brings her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) from Colorado; and the flighty, self-involved Karen (Juliette Lewis), who lives in Florida and is recently engaged to slick and sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulroney).

Also on the scene are Violet’s sister (Margo Martindale) and her husband (Chris Cooper) and their adult though seemingly emotionally stunted son (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Very little is seen of Beverly, by the way, who early on is found to have drowned himself. It’s the intensely dramatic interactions among different constellations of family members following the funeral that comprise the meat of the movie. Fortunately, there are sufficient doses of intermittent humor as well.

Watch the trailer for August: Osage County below:

More About Matriarch Violet

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “It’s both ironic and tragic that she’s suffering from mouth cancer. Her mouth burns and her tongue feels as if it’s on fire, she insists, but that doesn’t stop her from spewing verbal venom.”

Owen Gleiberman, ew.com: “…(S)he’s so drugged up on pharmaceuticals that it’s hard to say where the medicine leaves off and the self-medicating begins.”

Some Family Dynamics

Ian BuckwalterNPR: “Everyone here has pain, everyone has secrets, and while we join these characters for a short time, it’s easy to see that the cycles of lies, distrust, and abuse go back for generations, clinging to this family like the hot summer dust of the empty plains that surround them.”

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “This is a story about people bonded by blood but doing what they must to destroy each other—partly out of fear and panic, but also out of twisted love. The more they reveal about themselves, and each other, the more they come to realize how they don’t know each other at all. In the stifling angst of an unbearable Oklahoma August, they merely occupy the same space in a house of strangers.”

Overview of August: Osage County

Owen Gleibermanew.com: “The fights, insults, and sadistic parent-child mind games, the powerhouse acting that shades into overacting (though I’ll be damned if you could say exactly when)…the movie is red meat for anyone who thrives on a certain brand of punchy, in-your-face emotional shock value.”

The Writer, Tracy Letts, Speaks

Letts, interviewed on NPR, believes the material asks these ultimate questions: “Do you have a choice? Are you your brother’s keeper? When does your responsibility to your family end, and when should your responsibility to yourself take over?”

In an article in Slant, Letts states the following about another key element:

…I’ve been sober for over 20 years, and I’m a subscriber of AA and its philosophies. So there probably is something in there about my belief that a certain giving up of control is good for the soul. I certainly think that, in August: Osage County, that moment in the play when Barbara insists she’s ‘running things now’ was always a choice moment for the audience, and it’s in the film as well. And I think it taps into something that people feel, particularly in regard to their families: ‘Oh my god, if you would just do what I want you to do we’d be so much better off. If you’d just behave the way I feel you should behave.’ As opposed to allowing people to make their own choices, for good or ill.