Friday, April 18, 2014

Better Living Through Chemistry: Movie Review

An amusing full-circle story that detours through many different genres.

Advertised as a comedy, “Better Living Through Chemistry” might seem like the next “The Wolf of Wall Street” with Sam Rockwell having an affair and a joyride involving sex and drugs, lots of drugs. But curiously, the idyllic small-town opening and Rockwell’s depressed, every-man Doug Varney suggests that the movie is actually about a mid-life crisis taking place in a superficial suburban community. 2014

Directed by: Geoff Moore, David Posamentier

Screenplay by: Geoff Moore, David Posamentier

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan and Ken Howard

The movie ends up being neither of the above, but if you can find the common ground, that’s where it lies. Jane Fonda narrates the story of Doug Varney; he's a doormat, oh sorry, I mean a pharmacist, who is unhappily married, does unhappy things in his life, is hardly a father figure to his unhappy son and is desperately waiting for his unfairly happy father-in-law to fully pass his pharmacy over to Doug. The entire set-up played out exactly like a suburban mid-life crisis dramedy and I was left wondering if I was watching the right movie.

The film then introduces Olivia Wilde as the unhappily married trophy wife who is ready to spice up Doug's life with a romance of the affair variety. Still sounds like a mid-life crisis dramedy, but Wilde's Elizabeth Roberts was a femme fatale-styled character stepping directly out of a 1950s film noir. While this doesn't necessarily seem like the most promising of directions, through Doug, Elizabeth was the turning point for twists that started suggesting this was a dark comedy. And now that is a genre I can get behind.

While I was desperately waiting for these dark comedy turns to happen, two things occurred. First, there were montages. Scenes of Sam Rockwell dancing are always welcome and then scenes of pharmaceutical drugs being mixed to create new combinations - wrong of course, but it's better than giving people actual recipes to destroy their lives. These scenes represent the comedy they were originally going for. Second, a plot developed, one about the character of Doug and one which didn't really matter what genre it was.

Some people will probably get lost in the convoluted genre-switching path to the end. The story they're trying to tell is always present but the question of how are they trying to tell it gets harder to answer. I actually enjoyed that about the film because with each new genre being presented, I foresaw a different story, or at least one with a different ending. Whether it was on purpose or not, the film kept me guessing, and then the actual ending got tied back to the beginning in an amusing and satisfying full circle.
Best Lesser-known of 2014