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Movie review: 'Better Living Through Chemistry' a nauseating dose of irreverence

Better Living Through Chemistry


Although Better Living Through Chemistry (opening today) was created on a flimsy premise - never get high on your own supply - its quirky, irreverence toward the beginning showed some signs of promise. But that tone would never change throughout. It would quickly lost its potency, bottoming out as a movie more interested in its own sleekness than in the creation of real chemistry.

"Better Living Through Chemistry."
2014 Samuel Goldwyn Films

Sam Rockwell stars as a small-town pharmacist and push-over, Doug Varney. He has a wife, Kara, (Michelle Monaghan, of HBO's True Detective) who is a hard-core cyclist and the alpha in the family, as well as a rebellious son, Ethan (Harrison Holzer). Doug just inherited the local pharmacy from his father-in-law (Ken Howard), but the old man won't let Doug change the name of the store to his own. As a tiring, winking voice-over (by none other than Jane Fonda, who has no place in this film) tells us, Doug serves prescriptions to everyone else in town, but he doesn't have a prescription for his own problems.

Then enters into his life, the beautiful trophy wife, Elizabeth (Olivia Wilde). We don't meet her husband (Ray Liotta) until later, but Doug and Elizabeth hit it off, with a relationship centered around drugs and getting high.

Early on, Rockwell seemed delightfully miscast as a nerdy doctor that in the 80s, would have gone to comedians like Rick Moranis. But as his hair becomes increasingly unkempt, so does his personality. Finding newly discovered freedom and confidence at Elizabeth's side, Doug begins to use the drugs from his pharmacy for his fun (and often times sex-filled) romps with his mistress. His actions lead him closer to his son, farther from his wife and leads to a run-in with a local drug inspector (Norbert Leo Butz), who begins investigating the mysteriously depleted stock of drugs at Doug's pharmacy.

Lost in all of this hippy, dreamy-eyed, care-free comedy is a message about how people these days are too dependent on pills and other drugs. But this is the sort of film that makes drug use - and drug users - look cool. Luckily, it's well-defined enough not to offend, as the scenarios that play out cannot possibly be mistaken as reality. Yes, this film has its feet firmly planted in the land of make-believe.

Better Living Through Chemistry ends up not being all that funny, all that memorable, or really even all that bad. It's the definition of a forgettable film that could have probably been better, so it ends up feeling like a bit of a disappointment.

And what the heck is Jane Fonda doing in this film, appearing as herself even?

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Run Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes, Not Rated

Starring : Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, Jane Fonda, Ray Liotta, Ben Schwartz, Ken Howard, Norbert Leo Butz

Written & Directed by Geoff Moore & David Posamentier (feature-film screen-writing & directorial debut)

Opens locally on Friday, March 14, 2014 (check for show times).

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How to read Tom Santilli's "Star Ratings:"

  • 5 Stars: Exceptional, must-see movie
  • 4 Stars: Very good movie, not without flaws
  • 3 Stars: The movie was just OK, leaves a lot to be desired
  • 2 Stars: Pretty bad, a let-down, disappointing, but with some redeeming qualities
  • 1 Star: Awful, sloppy, a total waste of time
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