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.

Dec 06

“Three Billboards”: Female-Centric & -Reviewed

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has one of the best story lines and some of the most interesting and complex characters and performances I’ve seen in a long time.

Most importantly, it has Frances McDormand in the lead. And in honor of rare female-centric films such as Three Billboards, I’ve decided to let this movie post be female-reviewer-centric as well.

Watch this trailer, which sets up the Three Billboards premise (and colorful language) really well:

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times, describes the basic plot of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:

[McDormand] plays Mildred Hayes, a no-nonsense woman (she dresses, every day, in a navy-blue jumpsuit; the sort worn by plumbers or mechanics) who’s out for revenge. ‘I’m Angela Hayes’ mother,’ she says, in a voice so low you could jump over it. Her daughter, seven months ago, was raped and murdered by an unknown assailant; Mildred, frozen in clenched-jaw heartbreak, needs to know who to blame.

Mildred pays for three empty billboards to make the following statements:

    • “Raped While Dying.”
    • ″And Still No Arrests?”
    • ″How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

More about Mildred’s process, as expressed by Manohla Dargis, New York Times:

The billboards turn that grief into a weapon, a means of taking on the law and assorted men — a threatening stranger, a vigilante dentist and an abusive ex (John Hawkes) — who collectively suggest another wall that has closed Mildred in.

Dana Stevens, Slate, adds to our understanding of Mildred:

…(T)hough Mildred makes many choices that are reprehensible or downright dangerous, McDormand never fails to convince us of the fundamental decency of this woman, a tragic heroine struggling to find even the tiniest scrap of meaning in a comically awful world…Mildred is a tough person to be around…there are moments late in the movie when she commits acts that push at the limits of audience sympathy and goodwill. But McDormand, at age 60 one of our most gifted and least calculating actresses, fearlessly challenges us to love her character anyway.

How does the police department deal with Mildred? Kate Taylor, Globe and Mail: “The decent Willoughby (another finely crafted portrait of sympathetic masculinity from [Woody] Harrelson) tries to pacify her and rein in the most vicious of his officers, the explosively racist Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell in full psychopath mode.”

April Wolfe, Village Voiceaddresses dynamics that ultimately may leave some viewers dissatisfied:

[Director] McDonagh painstakingly humanizes a character who we find has unapologetically tortured a black man in police custody. And then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to ask audiences to forgive and forget wrongs like police violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault without demonstrating a full understanding of the centuries-long toll these crimes have taken on victims in real life.

There’s another problematic issue too. The Globe and Mail’s Taylor: “If the film fails to solve Dixon’s emotional puzzle, another one that remains troubling is Mildred’s relationship with her teenage son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), the only remnant of her family and link to her motherhood, yet apparently an afterthought in her crazed planning.”

Nevertheless, this is a movie, one with overall positive reviews, that makes you mull such things over. In closing:

...(T)here’s no better time than right now for a high-profile movie led by a meaty, complicated female character — and no better actress than McDormand to take it on. And you can put that on a billboard. Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press, regarding Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

…just the bitter pill the times call for, offered with a loving cup to make it go down just a bit easier. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

…a cathartic wail against the zeitgeist of rape culture and state brutality. It’s a rallying cry, a right hook to the jaw, and wow, does it ever hurt so good. Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

Dec 23

“Manchester by the Sea”: Parenting Unexpected

Manchester by the Sea, featuring the highly praised performance of Casey Affleck, is the “best movie of the year,” states Rex Reed, New York Observer. And as of this writing it’s a rarely seen 8.5 on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Although I found it to be longish, slowish, and above all utterly sad—the latter of which was repeatedly attested to by Affleck himself in his recent and humorous SNL monologue—it’s certainly worth seeing.

Basic info about Manchester by the Sea from A.A. Dowd, AVClub:

Casey Affleck, in the great internal performance of his career, plays Lee Chandler, a withdrawn handyman scraping by in Quincy, a suburb of Boston. Lee is the kind of miserable bastard who’d rather sucker-punch a stranger at the bar than go home with the beautiful woman trying to pick him up. Who is this broken man? What eats at his heart and swims behind his eyes? The questions hang like storm clouds over the early scenes, a solitary life told in odd jobs and punchlines: Lee shoveling snow, Lee screwing in a lightbulb, Lee unclogging a toilet for a tenant who has the hots for him. Frances Ha editor Jennifer Lame gives this opening passage a certain comic pop, until a phone call sends Lee racing to his hometown of Manchester By The Sea—but not fast enough to say goodbye to his older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), who’s just died of the degenerative heart condition he’s been afflicted with for years…

Lee becomes legal guardian to his 16-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). April Wolfe, Village Voice:

That prompts a string of flashback sequences, where Lee seems an altogether different man; he’s jovial, physically affectionate, has a wife (Michelle Williams) and three kids. The impact is immediate — we now understand that something has happened to make him so cold, and it certainly cannot be good…

Rex Reed, New York Observer, regarding Patrick:

It’s wrenching to observe the values of a boy too young for a driver’s license, sensitive, witty and highly intelligent enough to cope with his father’s death and the challenging alternative of living with a neurotic, estranged mother (Gretchen Mol) who lives in Connecticut with her emotionally blocked and religiously obsessed second husband (Matthew Broderick).

The Trailer for Manchester by the Sea

Various Themes

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “It’s a masculine melodrama that doubles as a fable of social catastrophe…”

Matt Zoller Seitzrogerebert.com:

It’s a story about the complexity of forgiveness—not just forgiving other people who’ve caused you pain, but forgiving yourself for inflicting pain on others. It’s a story about parenting, of the biological, foster and improvised kind. And it’s a portrait of a tightly knit community that depends mainly on one industry, fishing, and that has evolved certain ways of speaking, thinking, and feeling.

A.A. DowdAVClub: “Are there experiences so crushing that they ruin you forever? That’s the big question Lonergan asks, and we wait hopefully for a charitable answer.”

Selected Reviews

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times: “…heartbreaking yet somehow heartening, a film that just wallops you with its honesty, its authenticity and its access to despair.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “…a triumphant exploration of the way real people think and feel about grief, loss, love and survival that will stick in your gut and cling to your heart long after the final frame fades to black.”

Andrew Lapin, NPR:

a sprawling work that revels in its messiness, because being uncertain and uncomfortable and not knowing whether to laugh or cry when something happens is the real grist of humanity. One of the film’s final lines is ‘Do we have to talk about this now?’ But that’s what Manchester captures so beautifully about life: it’s a series of difficult conversations we’d rather avoid, about death and family and responsibility, and the ones that matter are with the people we love, or once loved, or will learn to love someday…