I love pills.
Well, maybe not the pill themselves, but the idea of them. Put one opaque morsel in your mouth and feel better. Depressed? Take a pill. Can't go to sleep? Take a pill. Got a bad ticker? Take a pill. Western medicine is inherently chill. We've got too much going on in our lives to be worried about it, ya know? Jah feel?
Now combine pills with the suburbs and oh, man, you've got some Dennis Miller one-liner materials for days. Soccer moms are Valium zombies! Old dudes can't get an erection! Your hyper kid just needs some Ritalin! This is the nineties, you guys, these observations are ripe.
Better Living Through Chemistry is a concoction of every movie that's ever been made about the futility of having a two-car garage and an honor roll student bumper sticker. Your significant other is cold and distant. Your kid's "going-through-a-phase" phase has become more permanent. Your in-laws are intolerable. Your life sucks. We get it! I get it! I was born, raised and currently reside in the suburbs. A big day around here is changing the batteries in the smoke alarm.
The movie was filmed two years ago and got an unceremonious release to VOD services. It's similar to The Details, the Tobey Maguire movie from 2012 about the monotony of the 'burbs. Both movies have a killer cast (and both have Ray Liotta), but it was met with apathy. Been there, done that. But as familiar as Better Living Through Chemistry felt, and despite that the satire has nothing particularly unique to say, I found myself, more often than not, totally into it.
Why? Sam Rockwell.
Rockwell is an American treasure and criminally under-appreciated. Last year, he was this close to getting his first Academy Award nomination for The Way Way Back, and was equally as good as an unfortunate hunter in A Single Shot. He's a model of consistency and has had so many career-defining roles. He can effortlessly play a schlub, con man, Gong Show host, Marvel universe villain and astronaut.
In Better Living Through Chemistry, he's never been better simply because he's never been bad.
Here he plays Doug Varney, a small-town pharmacist who's about to inherit his alpha-male father-in-law's drug store. He's a bit of a nerd, a bit of a milquetoast and is incapable of standing up for himself. His wife (Michelle Monaghan) is a cold control-freak obsessed with cycling and seems to only reserve intercourse specifically for birthdays.
He's an authentically nice guy who doesn't realize his life sucks until he delivers a prescription to "crazysexycool" trophy wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde). She smokes cigarettes and drinks martinis all day in her mansion while her husband (Liotta) is off on business. Of course, Doug and Elizabeth start to have an affair. Of course, she starts to teach him how to really live. And of course, since he's a pharmacist, he starts dipping into his own supply, eating Oxy and Vicodin and Adderral as his three square meals a day while the DEA is sniffing around.
Drugs have liberated him! He's no longer a little wiener! Just like that, in the span of a motel room montage, he goes from a dingus to a cool dude who does it doggy-style!
Yeah, yeah, in spirt and in practice, it seems like a total ripoff of a bunch of movies and it is. It's American Beauty without the white collar macabre or floating plastic bag. But despite its dipping into small town lore of movies past and quirk for quirk's sake (ninja stars are important here), Better Living Through Chemistry is funny. It's very funny. For the sake of this movie making me laugh, I'm willing to ignore the fact that its women characters are dimensionless sex puppets. Or that it's absurd. Or that the revelatory ending is presented with a cute lil' bow. Whatever! Rockwell 187'd the role and watching him devolve into a crazed man-child pill-popper is good enough for me. Roger Ebert said that Rockwell could play weird so well he reminded him of Christopher Walken. I disagree. Rockwell is Robert De Niro if he played all Rupert Pupkin-type characters after The King Of Comedy.
Oh yeah, for some reason that isn't made entirely clear, Jane Fonda narrates Better Living Through Chemistry as Jane Fonda, even appearing in a cameo as herself.
Is life better living through chemistry? Kind of. I can't imagine my life without hitting my nasal spray in the morning. I spent 90 minutes watching the movie and then wrote this review. By the time I hit "enter," I will probably have forgotten about it.
Maybe the satire is just going super deep. Like staying awake on Ambien -- it was fun in the moment, but by the time you snap out of it, is it really worth remembering?