May 08

“Welcome to Me”: A Different Kind of Therapy for BPD

Kristen Wiig stars in the new indie dramedy Welcome to Me, written by Eliot Laurence and directed by Shira Piven. IMDB describes it as “(a) year in the life of Alice Klieg, a woman with Borderline Personality Disorder who wins Mega-millions, quits her meds and buys her own talk show.”

MORE ABOUT THE PLOT OF WELCOME TO ME

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter, on her change of diagnosis to BPD:

Wiig’s Alice Klieg was diagnosed as a youth as a manic-depressive. While the diagnosis changed over the decades (her shrink, played by Tim Robbins, currently calls it Borderline Personality Disorder), Alice didn’t: Shelves of VHS tapes and a collection of ceramic swans attest to a lifelong fixation on a shallow sort of self-examination, the kind of hear-my-voice empowerment daytime TV was built on. When she wins an $86 million lottery, she seems less excited about the money than about the chance to read ‘a prepared statement’ about the story of her life to news cameras.

THE TRAILER

WHO IS ALICE?

Betsy SharkeyLos Angeles Times: “Her particular brand of disorder means she is, as the saying goes, honest to a fault. Sometimes, that means reminding a good friend of her teenage bikini phobia on national TV, at others, it’s more graphic — like when a sexual urge hits her. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen a lot. More common is her raw emotional vulnerability.”

Christopher Gray, Slant:  “Beneath her acts of character assassination, Piven and Wiig suggest a searching in Alice that makes her both palatable and sympathetic. (The film only seems to look down on her when using her penchant to mispronounce words as a crutch for additional, unnecessary laughs.)…Wiig affords Alice with an occasionally startling range of false confidence and emotional vulnerability…”

Justin Chang, Variety: “There’s no doubt that Alice is effectively enacting a very public, very expensive form of self-therapy, but what makes Piven’s sophomore directing effort…such an offbeat delight for much of its running time is the way it privileges comedy over catharsis…Alice isn’t a puzzle that needs solving — she’s more fun unsolved, frankly — and the filmmakers seem well aware that of all the things this woman may need, our sympathy isn’t one of them.”

HOW MENTAL ILLNESS IS PORTRAYED IN WELCOME TO ME

Justin Chang, Variety: On her TV show, Alice, among other kinds of kooky segments, “proves astoundingly articulate on the subject of her illness and her treatment; and watches in critical dismay while younger actresses re-enact formative/traumatic episodes from her life.”

Christopher Gray, Slant: “The film rejects a fawning (or even particularly detailed) account of mental illness in favor of a plunge into the deep end of Alice’s bottomless ego.”

John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter: “The film is in no rush to ask whether Alice’s tsunami of ego is eccentricity we can enjoy or a serious illness that merits our concern. Dr. Moffet regularly urges her to get back on her medication, but casting Robbins in the part is like a signal that we shouldn’t take his lefty nanny-state advice too seriously.”

OTHER CHARACTERS

Susan Wloszczyna, rogerebert.com:

While some fine performers like Jennifer Jason Leigh get lost in the shuffle, others manage to stand out: Tim Robbins as Alice’s long-suffering if naggy pill-pushing shrink; Linda Cardellini as her one and only friend; Wes Bentley as the on-air infomercial spokesman whose company produces Alice’s show and who becomes her lover; and James Marsden as his opportunistic brother who serves as the film’s Faye Dunaway counterpart as he encourages Alice’s crackpot decisions no matter the consequences.

Leave it to Joan Cusack—has she ever been less than terrific?—to be the one person to be able to divert our attention from Wiig as the show’s disgusted director who nevertheless occasionally engages in a lively on-air back and forth with Alice as a kind of unseen God-like persona from beyond.

Sep 27

“Thanks for Sharing”: Dramedy About Sex Addiction Recovery

About the new film Thanks for Sharing, from sex addiction expert Robert Weiss, LCSW, founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute (on The Huffington Post):

Thanks for Sharing is a meaningful and important film in three key ways. First, it is a well-written, well-acted, entertaining movie. Second, it is an accurate portrayal of the trials, tribulations, and joys of sex addiction recovery. Third, it is a film that can and hopefully will educate both active sex addicts and the general public about the nature (and recovery path) of a heretofore mostly misunderstood disease. Perhaps the most telling thought in this regard comes from an associate of mine — a recovering sex addict with more than a decade of sobriety. He saw the movie with a non-addicted friend who has long questioned the existence of sex addiction, despite knowledge of my associate’s troublesome sexual history. After the movie the non-addict friend said two things:

  1. I think I finally get it. Sex really can be an addiction.
  2. Is there a 12-step program for non-addicts? Because if there is, I’d really like to go.

In Thanks for Sharing the three main characters—Adam (Mark Ruffalo), Mike (Tim Robbins), and Neil (Josh Gad)—are in three different phases of participation in Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA). Five years into recovery, Adam has Mike as a sponsor, a guy who’s quick with an SAA aphorism but has conflicted relationships with his wife (Joely Richardson) and son Danny (Patrick Fugit), whose own addiction has been drugs. Adam sponsors the resistant, legally mandated Neil.

It is in fact much more common for men to attend SAA than women, so the fact that there’s only one female group member rings true. Like Neil, Dede (Alecia Moore) is a relative newcomer to SAA. And, by the way, Moore is otherwise known as the singer Pink, and she’s received positive reviews for her role.

Each addict has his/her struggles, but critics seem to focus the most on the emerging romantic relationship between Adam and Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), who’s already had a bad experience with an addict, an alcoholic partner. Adam thus fails initially to admit his addiction, a dishonest and unhealthy way for a member of SAA to go.

In addition to Adam and Phoebe, another interpersonal thread is the friendship that emerges between Neil and Dede, who’s previously only been able to relate to men via sex. The opinion of Linda Holmes, NPR, echoes that of several other reviewers as well:

…I think the most pleasant surprise is the friendship between the characters played by Josh Gad and Pink. This is the story that underscores the importance of giving a rip about someone besides yourself if you’re ever going to recover from anything. At first, the Gad character is so sketchy…that it seems like he might be irredeemable, but there’s a lot of ground to cover — as there is for all these characters.

What Are Some of the Things We Learn About Sex Addiction?

It’s a real condition for many, not an excuse for inappropriate behavior.

In the film the guys call recovery the daily struggle to “quit [the proverbial] crack while the pipe’s attached to your body.”

Robert Weiss, The Huffington Post, reports that two key sexual recovery books are seen in the film, Patrick Carnes‘s Out of the Shadows and A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps.

Although generally giving a favorable critique, Weiss adds:

My sole gripe, and it’s a very small gripe, is that the concept of ‘sexual sobriety’ is not adequately explained. I worry that viewers potentially interested in sexual recovery for themselves will walk away thinking that being sexually sober means they can never have sex again, with themselves or anyone else. And in reality that is not the case. Sexual sobriety differs for every person, and it does not equate to an elimination of sexuality. Instead, sexual sobriety is about finding ways to be sexual that are life and relationship affirming. Yes, compulsive and problematic sexual behaviors must be eliminated, but the remainder of the wide-open sexual universe remains in play. Sexual recovery is not a death-knell for sex, just as recovery from compulsive eating does not involve starving oneself to death.

Andrew Schenker, Slant: “The film shrewdly expands its scope by linking sex addiction with other forms of addiction, understanding the addictive personality to be not easily compartmentalized into a single category. Thus Mike is also an alcoholic, Neil a compulsive eater, and Dede is simultaneously attending a meeting for drug addicts.”

Jan 30

“Shawshank Redemption”: Hope and Other Themes

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Andy, The Shawshank Redemption

A good bit of “movie therapy” could be had from watching The Shawshank Redemption (1994). When you’re feeling down or downtrodden, nothing beats an injection of hope, one of the main themes of the highest-rated film on IMDB’s top 250 and one of my own personal favorites. 

Shawshank Redemption. “Shawshank” is a prison in which Andy (Tim Robbins), an innocent man convicted of murder, bonds with Red (Morgan Freeman), an admitted killer. “Redemption” is what ultimately happens. You have to watch it to find out how.

Redemption, freedom, friendship, oppression, time, patience, loyalty, justice—and yes, hope. All are themes of this well-done and highly praised movie.

The trailer’s below:

Male friendship.

Ed GonzalezSlant calls it “…Beaches for straight men.”

Friendship/Justice.

Janet Maslin, New York Times: “Without a single riot scene or horrific effect, it tells a slow, gentle story of camaraderie and growth, with an ending that abruptly finds poetic justice in what has come before.”

Oppression and self-oppression.

Rita KempleyWashington Post: “A detailed portrait of the routine of cellblock life, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ might change a few minds about the usefulness of incarceration in terms of rehabilitation. Mostly, though, it reminds us of that we all hold the keys to our own prisons.”

Justice.

Leonard Klady, Variety: “Ultimately, ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is about the dominance of real justice. That element of the narrative keeps the movie from descending into abject resignation.”

Time, patience, loyalty, friendship, hope.

Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com: “‘The Shawshank Redemption’ is a movie about time, patience and loyalty — not sexy qualities, perhaps, but they grow on you during the subterranean progress of this story, which is about how two men serving life sentences in prison become friends and find a way to fight off despair…”

HOPE.

James Berardinelli, Reel Views:

[Andy’s] unwillingness to surrender hope wins him the admiration of some and the contempt of others, and allows the audience to identify with him that much more strongly…

The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope and, because of that, watching it is both uplifting and cathartic.